Singapore football team
Can Singapore make it to the finals this time? Reuters

Singapore and Malaysia have their task cut out in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers after the Causeway rivals were handed tough third round draws. While the Lions, ranked 165 according to Fifa standings, have been grouped along Bahrain (123), Turkmenistan (143) and Chinese Taipei (157) in Group E, the Tigers, ranked 161, will face North Korea (125), Lebanon (148) and Hong Kong (140) in Group B.

The third round qualifiers will feature 24 teams drawn into six groups of four team each. The top two teams from each group will join the other group of 12 teams (qualified through Fifa World Cup qualifiers and Asian Cup second round qualifiers) - United Arab Emirates, Qatar, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Uzbekistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran and China PR - in the final stage of the tournament, which will be held in UAE from 5 January, 2019.

Singapore's woes

The Lions have a tough road ahead of them and they have to considerably raise their standards if they are qualify for the finals for only the second time after 1984, in which they qualified automatically as hosts. Their recent AFF Suzuki Cup campaign, in which they were knocked out in the group stages of the tournament are signs of what to expect from V Sundramoorthy's men.

Nonetheless, Singapore will take on Bahrain in their opening encounter on 28 March, 2017. Notably, the Lions have never beaten their higher-ranked opponents in their last seven meetings and they faced a 3-1 defeat in September last year. However, they have outclassed Turkmenistan and Chinese Taipei in their recent meetings - 2009 and 2011, respectively.

Sundramoorthy conceded that there will be no easy games in the group and that they will be arranging for friendlies in order to prepare for their first match on the road, according to The Straits Times.

Top-ranked Asean team Philippines also feature in the third round qualifiers and they have an easier passage into the final round as the Azkals have been grouped alongside Tajikistan, Yemen and Nepal.

Schedule for Singapore matches

OpponentsDateHome/Away
Bahrain28 March, 2017Away
Chinese Taipei13 June, 2017Home
Turkmenistan5 September, 2017Home
Turkmenistan10 October, 2017Away
Bahrain14 November, 2017Home
Chinese Taipei27 March, 2018Away

Groups

GroupTeams
Group AKyrgyzstan, India, Myanmar, Macau
Group BNorth Korea, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Malaysia
Group CJordan, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Cambodia
Group DOman, Palestine, Maldives, Bhutan
Group EBahrain, Turkmenistan, Chinese Taipei, Singapore
Group FPhilippines, Tajikistan, Yemen, Nepal