Singapore progressed to the third round of the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers (AFC) with a well-deserved 1-1 draw in Malaysia, before a massive crowd of 80,000 at the Bukit Jalil Stadium. The 6-4 aggregate win means we join Indonesia and Thailand as ASEAN representatives in the next Asian round.
In about 7 hours, the preliminary draw will take place in Rio de Janeiro to decide who our opponents will be in the group stage which begins in September 2011 and lasts till February 2012. All of the top 20 Asian teams in this round were also in the top 20 for the 2010 qualifiers, with the exception of Indonesia who replaced Turkmenistan by knocking them out 5-4 on aggregate. Also to be decided at the draw are the UEFA Qualifying Groups, always of interest to the average Singapore football fan weaned on a diet of English Premier League and moving on to the likes of Serie A, La Liga and the Bundesliga.
53 UEFA members will be vying for 13 spots in Brazil, and they will be divided into 9 groups. Group winners qualify automatically and the eight best runners-up will be drawn into play-offs to decide the last 4 spots.
What’s perhaps unknown to the casual Singaporean fan is the scale of the competition. In a region as anonymous for its football as North and Central America, where it is – probably rightly – assumed that the United States and Mexico are the only powerhouses and there isn’t much else to look out for, there are actually 35 countries competing for up to 4 spots in Brazil. Some might remember Jamaica’s appearance in 1998, Costa Rica in 2002, Trinidad and Tobago in 2006, and most recently Honduras in 2010. Perhaps the qualifying route there is easier… but it certainly does raise a few questions about our own assumptions regarding the Foreign Talent Scheme, doesn’t it?
All this and more will be decided at the draw in Rio de Janeiro, near the legendary Copacabana beach… preparing for a great festival of football ahead. Assuming those Mayans were wrong about 2012, of course.