The Russian national team can move to the Asian Football Confederation: who will our team play with, how to reach the 2026 World Cup

The issue of Russia’s possible withdrawal from UEFA and the transition to the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) was raised. Journalist and Nobel laureate Arustamian said the RFU was indeed considering such an option.

Why RFU can move to the AFC and when it will happen

“The main event for Russian football this week is the FIFA Congress meeting in Doha. Its results can have an impact on the visibility of the coming years or even decades. The Conference meets every year, the year of the World Cup takes place in the host country of the tournament. The next meeting is this Thursday, March 31st.

It will raise the issue of suspension of membership or exclusion of RFU. At the same time, a few weeks ago it seemed that FIFA as a whole would not include the issue of Russia on the agenda of the next meeting – the international federation wanted a delay, at least until the summer.

However, this or that question may be asked by one of the representatives. Several football federations from European countries called for a discussion on the fate of the RFU in late March. As much as FIFA got away with it, these federations insisted on their own.

Israel’s 1964 Asian Cup after defeating South Korea


Once again, I would like to draw your attention to the position of FIFA – relatively calm compared to other sports federations. In FIFA, rather, they sought to smooth the corners and postpone the issue. Let’s take the issue of the 2022 World Cup playoffs. Until recently, it was not ruled out that they could be transferred or kept in a neutral stadium. Only when all the participants (Poland, Sweden, Czech Republic) refused to play with Russia anywhere, FIFA had to exclude our team from the match to enter Qatar.

Here and now the international federation has tried to postpone the issue. And yet it will be affected. By the way, it is not yet clear whether an RFU delegation will be present in Doha. But in any case, the chances of the conference considering the issue of RFU membership are high.

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What awaits Russia? Two options are discussed:

1) light: ban for two years, one of which Russia can challenge and impose a suspended sentence.
2) indefinite suspension of RFU membership: only after an indefinite period of time will Russia be able to return to the issue of its status.

What is the way out of the situation? It is possible that in case of exclusion, RFU will be transferred from UEFA to the Asian Confederation after the end of the penalty. A typical example of such a transfer is Israel. The local team plays in UEFA not because of confusion in geography – no, in 1964 Israel hosted and won the Asian Cup. Under the auspices of UEFA, the Israelis came after a boycott by Arab states – matches against Libya, Jordan or Saudi Arabia became conditionally impossible. Israel has been playing in Europe since the 1990s.

It is very likely in this case that the RFU will try to follow a similar course – on the sidelines they are talking very actively about this option. The change of registration will slightly soften the debate around Russian football. European teams and clubs are unlikely to want to play Russia in the coming years, and there is no such pressure in Asia. “Meanwhile, the possibility of serious sanctions against Russian football is extremely high,” Arustamyan wrote.

How will the Russian team be able to reach the World Cup through selection in the AFC

So a possible scenario: excluding Russia for a year and then leaving UEFA and joining the AFC. This means that our team misses the opportunity to play in the European Championship and is included in the selection of the Asian Cup. At the same time, KA-2023 does not shine for us, since the qualification for this has been going on for a long time and the last, third round of the qualification remains. The next Asian Cup will take place only in 2027. A more topical issue for the Russian team is the match for a ticket to the 2026 World Cup.

By itself, the transition from UEFA to the AFC would be a step backwards for our football, given the level of clubs and national teams in this region. Top Asian FIFA rankings – Iran (21st), Japan (23rd), South Korea (29th), Australia (37th), Qatar (52nd), Saudi Arabia (53rd), UAE (69th), Iraq (74th) and China ( 75). At the same time, it is very likely that we will breed with the Japanese, South Koreans, Australians and Singapore (161st place), who are included by the Russian government in the list of unfriendly countries. On the other hand, joining the AFC would make it easier for Russia, which ranks 35th in the FIFA rankings, to qualify for the final phase of the World Cup.

We remind you that in the 2026 World Cup, which will be hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, the number of participants in the final phase will increase from 32 to 48 teams. Asia will receive eight guaranteed tours (twice as many as before) and one seat at the intercontinental junctions. Russia will have to “try hard” not to enter the top 8 of the best Asian teams.

The details and qualifying conditions for the 2026 World Cup are still being debated, but what does the AFC’s selection for the 2022 World Cup look like? A total of 46 Asian teams took part, including Qatar, although the future host of the tournament already had a guaranteed place in the domestic world championship. In the first round, they played 12 of the weakest Asian teams according to the FIFA rating: they formed six pairs, the winners of which went further.

In the second stage, all the others entered the match – 40 teams were divided into eight groups of five teams. Qatar also took part in the qualification, as in parallel with the World Cup there was also a qualification for the Asian Cup in 2023. Tickets for the third round went to 12 teams: eight group winners and a quartet of the best runners-up. It is strange that not everyone played until the end – in the PRC they decided to retire from the selection, having only played half the matches. The North Koreans justified it for fear of the spread of the coronavirus.

Photo: Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

In the third stage, 12 teams were divided into two groups of six participants. The teams that finished in first and second place qualified for the 2022 World Cup. In Group A, South Korea and Iran were far ahead of everyone. Group B was dominated by Japan and Saudi Arabia. Third-placed teams will play in public – this is Australia and, most likely, the United Arab Emirates. The winner of this pair will then meet the fifth team of South America (obviously, with Peru or Colombia), which means that the Australians or their opponents at the Asian cross are unlikely to reach the World Cup. Obviously, only Qatar, the South Koreans, the Iranians, the Japanese and the Saudis will represent Asia in the 2022 World Cup.

Through UEFA, it will be very difficult for Russia to qualify for the 2026 World Cup. In that sense, going to the AFC is at least a plus. There is generally nothing good about a break from European football.

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