With less than nine months remaining until the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the AFC’s four representatives are steeling themselves with a series of international friendlies both at home and abroad.
FIFA international breaks in October, November, and March, as well as domestic training camps and sub-regional competitions such as the EAFF E-1 Championship, will offer head coaches to evaluate their talent ahead of final squad decisions in May.
But with each confederation on a different qualifying calendar, it isn’t always easy for local FAs to find ideal opposition. Here’s a look at the sides that World Cup-bound Iran, Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia will face in the coming days and weeks:
October 5: Iran vs. Togo
Fresh off their dominant qualifying campaign, Team Melli eased to a 2-0 win over Togo at Azadi Stadium on Thursday evening. Karim Ansarifard scored both goals against the West African nation, who at 121st in the FIFA rankings are close to their all-time low of 125.
October 6: Japan vs. New Zealand
In a Friday-night encounter at Toyota Stadium, the All Whites will return to Japan for the first time since 2014. That mach saw Japan win 4-2 in the final senior international played at the old National Stadium in Tokyo.
October 7: Saudi Arabia vs. Jamaica
The Green Falcons will return to the site of their dramatic qualifying finale win against Japan when they face the Reggae Boyz in Jeddah.
October 7: Russia vs. South Korea
After narrowly qualifying for next year's tournament, the Taeguk Warriors will take on hosts Russia at the VEB Arena, home of local powerhouses CSKA Moscow. Reuters and other media have reported the possible attendance of former head coach Guus Hiddink.
October 10: Japan vs. Haiti
With European and South American opponents unavailable for this international break, the Samurai Blue will face CONCACAF minnows Haiti at International Stadium Yokohama.
October 10: Saudi Arabia vs. Ghana
Saudi Arabia will test themselves against African opposition at King Fahd International Stadium. Ghana for their part are struggling in CAF's Group E and will be looking ahead to a do-or-die encounter with Egypt in November.
October 10: Russia vs. Iran
Iran will get an early look at one of their potential 2018 FIFA World Cup venues when they face off with hosts Moscow at Kazan Stadium, which was completed in 2013 and hosted Confederations Cup matches earlier this year.
October 10: South Korea vs. Morocco
After scheduled opponents Tunisia pulled out on short notice, the KFA arranged for Morocco to fill in at the Tissot Arena in Bielle/Bien, Switzerland.
November 10: Japan vs. Brazil
Japan's will once again take on titans Brazil, this time at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille, France. Head coach Vahid Halilhodzic will be looking to make his homecoming a triumphant one; in their last three encounters Japan have lost to the perennial World Cup contenders by a combined 11-0.
November 14: Belgium vs. Japan
The two sides will meet for the first time in four years, when Japan turned heads with a 3-2 win at King Baudouin Stadium. A venue for the match is yet to be announced, but some local media reports indicate that the fixture could take place somewhere other than Brussels.