The road to the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup has been laid out for the Philippine Azkals.
The Azkals were matched with China, Syria, Maldives, and Guam in Group A in the second round of the World Cup qualifiers at a draw conducted at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Wednesday evening.
The 126th-ranked Philippines will have its hands full with higher-seeded China (73) and Syria (85). China has beaten the Azkals twice in 2019, once during the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and another during a friendly. As for Syria, the Philippines last met them in 2001 and absorbed a 5-1 loss during the 2002 World Cup qualifiers.
Against both the Maldives (151) and Guam (190), the Azkals have had more positive recent results. In their last meetings, the Philippines defeated the Maldives and Guam in international friendlies in 2015 and 2012, respectively.
Elsewhere in the draw, Group G could have earned the title 'Group of Death' with majority of the South East Asian powerhouses bundled into a single bracket. Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia are grouped alongside top-seeded United Arab Emirates in what looks like the toughest group on paper.
Teams will play a double-round robin, home-and-away format, or eight matches per team. The eight group winners and four best runners-up will advance to the third round of the World Cup qualifiers.
Since the World Cup qualifiers also serves as the qualifying tournament for the Asian Cup, the group winners will also qualify for the 2023 edition of the tournament. Second, third, and the four best fourth-placed teams will be drawn into the third round of qualifiers for the Asian Cup.
The remaining four fourth-placed nations will figure in a qualifying play-off round.
The second round of World Cup qualifiers are set to run from September 5 to June 9, 2020.
The Azkals are set to kick off their campaign against Syria on September 5 and close it against the Maldives on June 9, 2020.