S. Korea to begin 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign next year

2014/07/23 17:23

SEOUL, July 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will begin its regional qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia next summer, hoping to reach the quadrennial tournament for the ninth consecutive time.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Wednesday released match calendars for 2015 on its website. According to the schedule, South Korea, which will likely get a bye to the second round, will have the first qualification match on June 11, with the second match to follow five days later.

The AFC has decided to merge the Asian qualification rounds for the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. Under this change, the countries that make it past the second round of the World Cup qualification will automatically book their spots for the 2019 Asian Cup.

Based on the FIFA rankings of February 2015, the AFC will determine, from its 47 member states, the lower-ranked nations that will play in the first round.

A total of 40 teams will reach the second round. They will be divided into eight groups of five. Then 12 teams -- the winners of each group and the four best runners-up -- will qualify for the third round.

These dozen nations will also qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup.

In the third round, the 12 will be divided into two groups of six. The top two teams from each group will advance to the 2018 World Cup, while the two third-place teams will meet in a playoff. The winner of that match will take on the fifth-place team from South America in the intercontinental playoff, the final chance for an Asian team to qualify for the World Cup.

The tweaks to the qualification system will mean more games for the participants. For the 2014 World Cup, 10 teams played in the final Asian qualification round, and they played eight games apiece. With two extra teams in the final round this time, teams will now each play 10 matches.

South Korea has yet to name its head coach, after Hong Myung-bo stepped down in the aftermath of the country's winless World Cup in Brazil. Officials have said they will not rush to name Hong's successor and may even use an interim coach for South Korea's two friendly matches in September.