The identity of all 12 teams that will compete in the third round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in Asia is far from being finalised, but the sides that will compete for those places are now more apparent after the conclusion of the penultimate matchday in the second round on Friday.
Giants of Asian football like Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are yet to guarantee their berths in the next stage, while we could witness fresh faces like that of ASEAN champions Vietnam reaching the final 12.
With the competition heading for a nail-biting climax, we look at a lessons from the penultimate matchday of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup Joint-Qualifiers.
Vietnam set up a do-or-die clash against UAE
De Paula score his first international goal to equalise with little more than 15 minutes to play, sparking wild celebrations in the Malaysian camp, but Vietnam's Golden Star Warriors did not let their shoulders drop and battled on for the winner, which they found via another penalty. Substitute Nguyen Van Toan went down at the other end and captain Que Ngoc Hai scored the decider that keeps Vietnam's fate in the tournament in their own hands.
Still unbeaten in seven matches, Park Hang-seo's side will enter the final matchday on June 15 with a two-point lead atop Group G and only need avoid defeat by second-placed UAE to book a place among the final 12. But keeping the Emiratis at bay won't be an easy task for the Southeast Asian champions.
UAE have scored 12 goals in three matches since the World Cup qualifiers resumed, and they netted five against Indonesia in their penultimate second-round tie on Friday. Vietnam's backline will have their work cut out against tournament top-scorer Ali Mabkhout, who bagged another brace against Garuda to take his tally to 10 goals.
This group of players under Park has stepped up on the big occasions in recent years -- be it in the junior level or at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup -- and the flag bearers for ASEAN in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers have reasons to believe they can be the region's only representatives in the next stage of the competition.
ASEAN teams fumble in the second half of qualifiers
Friday saw ASEAN Football Federation representatives Australia become the fourth side to advance to the third round of the tournament. But, it has been a tough return to the tournament for Singapore and Myanmar, who had impressed before the matches were halted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Singapore, who had wins against Palestine and Yemen in their bag before heading to Riyadh for the restart, ended their campaign with a 3-0 defeat by Saudi Arabia. Tatsuma Yoshida's charges failed to add to the seven-point tally they had before the restart, and they could finish bottom of Group D if Yemen defeat Palestine on Tuesday.
Cambodia, meanwhile, ended their campaign with a 10-0 thrashing by Iran, who had nine different players on the scoresheet. The Angkor Warriors have been firmly rooted to the bottom of their pool, conceding 44 goals in eight games -- more than any team in the second round.
Myanmar also have failed to flatter in their recent matches, shipping 18 goals against Japan and the Kyrgyz Republic to slip to the bottom of Group F. It is safe to say that Antonie Hey's men have unravelled on the big stage, but they will be hoping to salvage some pride when they take on third-placed Tajikistan in their final outing in Osaka.
Malaysia and Thailand will face each other on the final day to decide who will finish third in Group G and earn a direct berth in the third round of Asian Cup qualifiers. Philippines assured a third-place finish in Group A with a 3-0 win against Guam, and they can increase their tally to 13 points with a win against the Maldives on Tuesday.
Big games as qualifiers head for an exciting conclusion
The final matchday of the World Cup qualifiers second round will feature plenty of big matches with only four teams having confirmed their place in the final stage of the competition.
In Group A, China will be aiming for all three points against already qualified Syria as they look to solidify second place and qualify as one of the five best runner-ups.
In Group B, Kuwait and Jordan, who played out a feisty goalless draw on Friday, are embroiled in a battle for second. Jordan, with 14 points, take on Australia, while Kuwait, who have 11 points, have an easier fixture against Chinese Taipei as they look to leapfrog Jordan with a win. Group C perhaps features the biggest game of the final matchday as neighbours Iraq and Iran, separated by just two points, tangle for the top spot.
Group D has the same scenario as toppers Saudi Arabia take on Uzbekistan on June 15 with just two points between them.
It will be an anxious wait for Group E runners-up Oman to find out if they qualify for the third round as one of the five runners-up.
In Group F, Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan are tied on 10 points but the Tajiks have the easier final fixture against Myanmar; Kyrgyz Republic take on Japan, who are already through to the next round.
Group H has Lebanon looking to consolidate on their second place, but they have a tough game against South Korea to negotiate on Tuesday.