The United Arab Emirates will face old foes Saudi Arabia in the second round of Asian qualifying for the 2018 World Cup after being drawn alongside their neighbours in Tuesday’s draw in Kuala Lumpur.
Mahdi Ali’s side will also play Malaysia, Timor-Leste and Palestine in Group A as they bid to reach only their second World Cup in history.
First up for the UAE on the road to Russia, is a trip to Timor-Leste – ranked 152nd in the world by FIFA – on June 16.
Crucial to their chances of advancing to the next stage of qualification will be UAE’s results against Saudi Arabia, who they will host on October 8 of this year before travelling to Riyadh for a potentially decisive final group game on March 29, 2016.
The two sides last met at the semi-final stage of the 2014 Gulf Cup of Nations, UAE falling to a 3-2 defeat.
— Matt Monaghan (@mattmonaghan360) April 14, 2015
The World Cup qualifying campaign also serves as 2019 Asian Cup qualifying, which will be hosted by the UAE.
Four teams from the AFC are guaranteed to compete at Russia 2018 with a potential fifth should an Asian team win the intercontinental playoff against the fifth-placed team from South American qualifying.
The eight group winners from the second round of AFC qualifying and the four best runners up will advance to the third qualifying round, which consists of two groups of six.
The top two of each group will then automatically advance to the 2018 World Cup, with the two third-placed teams going into a qualifying playoff to compete for a right to play the intercontinental playoff.
2018 World Cup qualification – AFC second round
Group A: UAE, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Timor-Leste, Malaysia
Group B: Australia, Jordan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh
Group C: China, Qatar, Maldives, Bhutan, Hong Kong
Group D: Iran, Oman, India, Turkmenistan, Guam
Group E: Japan, Syria, Afghanistan, Singapore, Cambodia
Group F: Iraq, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Chinese Taipei
Group G: South Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, Myanmar, Laos
Group H: Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Philippines, North Korea, Yemen