The draw for the final round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers will take place on Thursday at the AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where 12 teams will be split into two groups.
Iran will be joined by six other group winners of the preliminary round, Australia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Japan, UAE, and South Korea, as well as five best runners-up – Iraq, China, Oman, Vietnam, and Lebanon – in the draw.
Top two of each group will advance to the final showpiece in Qatar next year.
The two teams finishing third will play a two-legged playoff, with the winners progressing to an inter-confederation playoff against a team from either South America, CONMEBOL, or Oceania for a spot at the World Cup.
Of the 11 teams, Iran is only assured of not facing Japan in the group stage as both Asian powerhouses are in Pot 1 of the draw.
Dragan Skocic’s men will kick off their campaign on September 2 with a home fixture against Syria or Oman, where Iran could face former manager Branko Ivankovic – now in charge of Oman.
Also an ex-head coach of Persepolis, the Croatian steered Iran to the 2006 World Cup.
Iran will also play their last match at home against either Vietnam or Lebanon on March 29 next year.
According to FIFA regulations, teams are to square off in home-and-away round-robin matches.
However, the world football governing body and the AFC could come up with a last-minute change in plans as some participating teams lack the video assistant referee (VAR) technology in their home venues.
The AFC has confirmed that the VAR system will be implemented for all matches in the final round of the qualifiers.
Only Japan, South Korea, Australia, China, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have deployed the system, with Vietnam, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and Oman yet to introduce the technology for their domestic competitions.
Soheil Mahdi, of the Iranian federation’s League Organization, said last week that it will take at least six months to equip Tehran’s Azadi Stadium – or any other venue in the country – with the system.
Should the VAR technology remain compulsory for the qualifiers, it could see Iran, and five other teams, being forced to play their home fixtures in neutral VAR-equipped venues.
The other option for the AFC is to hold the event in a centralized format, which is unlikely, given the seven-month schedule already released by the Asian football body.