Singapore, Malaysia, India face tough qualifying paths to 2019 Asian Cup
Malaysia and Singapore have been handed difficult paths to the finals of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, while India coach Stephen Constantine will also face a tricky challenge.
The Indians are seeking to appear in the continental championship for the first time since 2011, while many of the top Southeast Asian nations are looking to put disappointing 2018 World Cup qualifying campaigns behind them.
Ong Kim Swee's Harimau Malaysia will face a trip to Pyongyang in Group B to play North Korea, as well as meeting Hong Kong and Lebanon, after the draw for the next continental championship was conducted in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
The North Koreans will be favourites to take one of the group's two berths in the finals, which will be played in January 2019.
Twelve teams from these qualifiers will join the tournament hosts, and the other 11 nations appearing in the on-going final phase of qualifying for Russia 2018.
Singapore, meanwhile, have been drawn in Group E and will entertain former Asian Cup semifinalists Bahrain, as well as embarking on a difficult trip to Ashgabat to face Turkmenistan. East Asian minnows Chinese Taipei round out the group.
India's task will see them take on Kyrgyzstan in Group A, and will also feature a clash with an improving Myanmar, as well as AFC Solidarity Cup runners up Macau.
Nepal, who won the Solidarity Cup in Malaysia last November, will provide a potential banana skin for Philippines in Group F, along with Tajikistan and Yemen.
Top seeds Jordan will take on Vietnam, 2013 South Asian champions Afghanistan, and Cambodia, in arguably the strongest group of the qualifiers.
Oman and Palestine, who both appeared at the 2015 edition of the competition in Australia, have been drawn in Group D, alongside Maldives and Bhutan.
The top two teams will advance to the newly expanded 24-team finals where they will join hosts UAE, defending champions Australia, Japan, South Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Qatar, Uzbekistan and Thailand. Qualifying will commence on Mar. 28 and will conclude on Mar. 27, 2018.
2019 Asian Cup Qualifying Draw
Group A: Kyrgyzstan, India, Myanmar, Macau
Group B: North Korea, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Malaysia
Group C: Jordan, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Cambodia
Group D: Oman, Palestine, Maldives, Bhutan
Group E: Bahrain, Turkmenistan, Chinese Taipei, Singapore
Group F: Philippines, Tajikistan, Yemen, Nepal
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch