Football: The Road to Russia 2018 might have ended for the young Bhutanese squad at the bottom of Group C. But the team will still play some more international games to qualify for the 2019 Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) Asian Cup, which will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Following a competition committee meeting in November 2014, it was decided that a play-off round of qualifying would be introduced into the AFC Asian Cup.

The play-off round will feature 11 countries – the seven bottom teams and the second best fourth-placed teams at the end of the second round of FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

Timor-Leste that is at the bottom of Group A (A5), Bangladesh (B5), Bhutan (C5), India (D5), Cambodia (E5), Laos (G5) and Yemen (H5) and the four best fourth-place teams – Malaysia (A4), Tajikistan (B4), Maldives (C4) and Chinese Taipei (F4) will compete in two rounds of home-and-away two-legged play-off matches to determine the final eight qualifiers for the third round.

Of the 11 teams, 10 will be divided into two pots based on the rankings. Bhutan is excluded from the ranking and, therefore, will be waiting in the second round of the play-off. The five winners from round one of the play-off will enter the third round. The five runners up and Bhutan will compete for the final three spot in the third round of the of the AFC qualifiers.

The draw for the two-round playoffs will take place at AFC House in Kuala Lumpur on April 7. The first round of the play-off will kickoff on June 2 and 7. The second round will be played on September 6 and October 11.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers also served as the joint qualifiers for the 2019 AFC Asia Cup in UAE.

The top 12 teams from the second round of the World Cup Qualifiers will be granted automatic qualification to the AFC tournament. This includes the top qualifying teams from each group, plus the four of the best second placed teams in the groups, based on points scored and goal difference.

The 2019 AFC Asian Cup will be the 17th edition of the quadrennial international men’s football championship of Asia. This will be the second time the United Arab Emirates hosts the tournament after the1996 finals.

For the first time, 24 teams will take part in the Asia Cup, which have been expanded from the 16-team format that had been used since 2004.

Australia will be the defending champions going into the tournament, having won the previous competition in 2015. The winner of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup will earn the right to participate in the 2021 FIFA Confederation Cup.

Younten Tshedup