Socceroos learn five group opponents for Round 3 of 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying

The Socceroos’ path to the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup is clear after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Round 3 Draw of World Cup qualifying in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, June 27.

Just 18 nations remain in hunt for up to nine AFC qualification spots for the expanded 48-team World Cup to be hosted in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026.

The 18 AFC Countries were split into three groups of six for Round 3 of AFC qualifying, with Australia drawn alongside Japan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, China PR and Indonesia in Group C.

The draw is a repeat of 2022 qualifying for Japan, Saudi Arabia and Australia when the Socceroos finished third behind the two nations in Group B, and were forced to qualify for the tournament via an inter-confederation play-off against Peru.

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As the fourth-highest ranked AFC nation in FIFA’s World Rankings, Australia was placed in Pot 3 for Thursday’s Round 3 Preliminary Draw, alongside Qatar and Iraq.

The 18 teams were split into six pots, with one nation from each pot allocated to each of the three groups:

Pot 1Pot 2Pot 3
Japan, Islamic Republic of Iran, Korea RepublicAustralia, Qatar, IraqSaudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Jordan
Pot 4Pot 5Pot 6
United Arab Emirates, Oman, BahrainChina PR, Palestine, Kyrgyz RepublicDPR Korea, Indonesia, Kuwait

Then came the group draw, when Australia discovered their fate as part of Group C where they’ll face a stern test alongside five rival AFC nations.

AFC Round 3 Preliminary Draw

PotGroup A
Nation (World Ranking)
Group B
Nation (World Ranking)
Group C
Nation (World Ranking)
1Islamic Republic of Iran (20)Korea Republic (22)Japan (17)
2Qatar (35)Iraq (55)Australia (23)
3Uzbekistan (62)Jordan (68)Saudi Arabia (56)
4United Arab Emirates (69)Oman (76)Bahrain (81)
5Kyrgyz Republic (101)Palestine (95)China PR (88)
6DPR Korea (110)Kuwait (137)Indonesia (134)

The home-and-away group games in Round 3 of qualifying are set to take place across September, October and November 2024, as well as March and June of 2025.

The top two teams from each of the three groups at the end of Round 3 (six nations in total) will qualify for the 2026 World Cup.

The third and fourth-placed teams in each group will advance to AFC play-off matches set for October and November of 2025, in the hope of filling the AFC’s seventh and eighth automatic qualification slots.

A potential ninth spot in the World Cup for an AFC nation will go up for grabs in an inter-confederation play-off.

Australia’s Group C fixtures

Supplied by Football Autralia

September 2024 FIFA Men’s International Window

MD1: Australia v Bahrain – Thursday, 5 September

MD2: Indonesia v Australia – Tuesday, 10 September

October 2024 FIFA Men’s International Window

MD3: Australia v China PR – Thursday, 10 October

MD4: Japan v Australia – Tuesday, 15 October

November 2024 FIFA Men’s International Window

MD5: Australia v Saudi Arabia – Thursday, 14 November

MD6: Bahrain v Australia – Tuesday, 19 November

March 2025 FIFA Men’s International Window

MD7: Australia v Indonesia – Thursday, 20 March

MD8: China PR v Australia – Tuesday, 25 March

June 2025 FIFA Men’s International Window

MD9: Australia v Japan – Thursday, 5 June

MD10: Saudi Arabia v Australia – Tuesday, 10 June