India-Nepal showdown highlights Asia’s first stage of qualifying for Russia 2018

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The Asian Football Confederation’s () 12 lowest-ranked  teams were drawn on Tuesday in the first stage of qualification for both the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup.

In what’s likely the highlight of the stage, FIFA 171st-ranked India will play neighbors , who bested them 2-1 in the 2013 SAFF Championship.

Yemen, the only West Asian team to appear in the stage, were drawn with .

The next three matches feature East Asian teams against Southeast Asian Teams, with Timor-Leste facing , Cambodia squaring off with , and Chinese Taipei playing Brunei.

Finally, a second all-SAFF card sees FIFA’s bottom-ranked take on Sri Lanka.

The first leg of the stage will take place on March 12, with the return leg playing out five days later on March 17.

Winners will join the AFC’s 34 top-ranked nations in the second stage, which will be contested in eight groups of five teams beginning in June 2015.

The new format will see the group winners, as well as the top four runners-up, automatically qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup and advance to the third stage of World Cup qualification, while the top 24 remaining teams will participate in qualification for the Asian Cup.

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