The Asia and Oceania section had 20 teams contesting the competition to whittle down to 2 qualifiers. Iran withdrew before the draw was made, so the countries were split into 4 groups for the first section with the winners going into a final group where the top two progress to the finals in Spain.
Group One: 5 teams play each other on a home-and-away basis
Group Two: 5 teams play each other once with all the games being held in Saudi Arabia.
Group Three: 4 teams pay each other once with all the games being held in Kuwait.
Group Four: 6 teams, with all matches played in Hong Kong. Firstly, there would be ‘Classification Matches’ to determine the make-up of the group stage. Two groups of three teams would then be set up with each team playing each other once. After that there would be a Semi-Finals stage, leading to a final to determine the qualifier for the final round in the region.
Australia, Chinese Tapei, Fiji, Indonesia, New Zealand
New Zealand won the group as they went through it unbeaten and only conceding 3 goals. They started off with a thrilling 3-3 draw with Australia, when Grant Turner, Steve Wooddin and Steve Sumner scored. Brian Turner then scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 win in Fiji. They were held to a 0-0 draw in Chinese Tapei and later won 2-0 in Australia.
Later in the campaign, Australia thrashed Fiji, 10-0. Remarkably, all the goals were scored by just two players. Gary Cole scored 7, including a penalty, and David Mitchell scored the other 3 goals. If that wasn’t bad enough, Fiji had to fly from Melbourne to Auckland to play New Zealand just two days later. They were then thumped, 13-0. Steve Sumner scored 6. Australia were then humbled when they were beaten in Indonesia by a goal in the last 2 minutes. They then failed to beat Chinese Taipei and they couldn’t catch New Zealand.
QUALIFIER: New Zealand
Bahrain, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria
All these games were played in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In the end the home side won every game and therefore the group with it. They didn’t concede a goal either. All the games produced results as Iraq finished 2nd with Qatar 3rd.
Kuwait, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand
All these games were played in Kuwait City and as with Group Two, the home side used their advantage to their advantage, by winning all three of their matches and no conceding a goal. The final game of the group was between Kuwait and South Korea with the winner going through. Kuwait won 2-0 with goals from Al-Anbari and Al-Ghanen.
For reasons best known to the organisers, they arranged a preliminary section known as “Classification Matches” where the 6 teams played one-off matches to determine who would go into the two groups for the main section. All the games were played in Hong Kong and just before Christmas, 1980. China, Japan and North Korea won those games and so the two groups were decided, with Group A holding China and Japan, with North Korea going into Group B with two of the losers from the Classification section. North Korea had won their classification match, 3-0 against Macau, so this gave them the honour of an easier Group stage.
Teams played each other once and China beat both Japan and Macau to win the group, with Japan finishing 2nd to also go through.
Hong Kong drew with Singapore, with North Korea beating Singapore. So when Hong Kong and North Korea met, Hong Kong only needed a draw to join North Korea in the next round. They did, 2-2.
North Korea beat Japan, 1-0. In the other Semi, Hong Kong and China drew 0-0 after extra time. The penalty shootout saw the Chinese win 5-4 to go through to meet North Korea in the final
After three weeks of a qualifying campaign, China were now in the final with North Korea. 2-2 after 90 minutes, the Chinese eventually won 4-2 to qualify for the Final Round.
China, Kuwait, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia.
The last three representatives from this section in World Cup finals, Australia (1974), Israel (1970) and North Korea (1966) were absent from this section so all four teams knew qualification would give them their first ever appearance at a finals. The games were held between September-December 1981.
China and New Zealand played out a 0-0 draw in Beijing. But then a week later in the return fixture in Auckland, Ricki Herbert’s goal on half-time gave New Zealand a 1-0 win. New Zealand was home again a week later when Kuwait were the visitors. Steve Wooddin put the home side in front, but Al-Dakheel equalised from the penalty spot just after the break. With just 8 minutes to go Yacoub got the winner for Kuwait to give them a 2-1 win.
But if Kuwait thought they’d done all the hard work, they then travelled to Beijing and lost, 0-3 to China, to send the Chinese to the top of the group. Saudi Arabia then took their bow at the beginning of November when Kuwait visited them. Al-Anbari scored the only goal of the game to give Kuwait a 1-0 win and they’d now played all their away games, winning two of them.
Saudi Arabia were then up against China in Malaysia and were 2-0 up inside the opening 15 minutes. But the Chinese put another good performance together and 2 goals in as many minutes just after the hour brought things level and then 2 more goals in the last 15 minutes gave China a 4-2 win. A week later, still in Malaysia, China and Saudi Arabia met again and this time China won 2-0, to give themselves a great chance of qualifying.
It was now clear, Saudi Arabia was the weakest team in the group and therefore matches against them could determine the qualifiers, and possibly on goal difference. New Zealand met the Saudis in Auckland but were held, 2-2, throwing their progress into a little doubt.
Kuwait then played host to China, knowing the Chinese probably only needed a draw. Al-Anbari was again on target as Kuwait won 1-0. With three games left to play in the group, China had finished on 7pts. They were 2pts ahead of Kuwait, who had 2 to play, and 3pts ahead of New Zealand, who also had 2 to play.
Into December and Kuwait beat Saudi Arabia, 2-0 with both goals from Al-Dakheel to put them in a strong position. Things were really tight, as China and Kuwait were locked on 7pts with Kuwait having a game in hand. China had a superior goal difference and that could prove crucial.
In mid-December, Kuwait and New Zealand met in Kuwait City. The home side only needed a draw, but New Zealand could really do with winning. Any defeat for Kuwait would hand the qualification to China. Goals for Kuwait from Al-Hashash and Kameel cancelled out the two from Sumner and Wynton Rufer. The game ended 2-2 which helped Kuwait confirm their qualification for Spain.
To sort out the 2nd qualifier, it all came down to the final match of the group. In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia played host to New Zealand. There was nothing in this for the home side but the visitors needed to win by 6 clear goals, otherwise China were going through. 16 minutes into the game and youngster, Wynton Rufer put the Kiwis ahead. A minute later Brian Turner made it 2-0. With 7 minutes of the first half remaining, Rufer then banged in his 2nd of the game and then Steve Wooddin got the 4th almost straight after. Brian Turner then scored his 2nd of the game right on half-time, when he converted a penalty. 5-0 up at the break and belief was all around the Kiwis. If things stood as they were, they would be into a play-off against China, but score another goal and they’d be through automatically. They spurned several chances in the second half, clearly through the excitement of it all and the game ended 5-0 to New Zealand. Remarkably, they’d overturned the goal difference deficit and earned a play-off with China.
10th January 1982 in Singapore and the play-off to determine the other qualifier from this section. Wooddin put New Zealand in front by half-time and then early in the second period, Rufer scored to give them a 2-0 lead. Huang got one back but New Zealand hung on to pull off a famous victory.
QUALIFIERS: Kuwait, New Zealand
From the first qualifying match in March 1980 to the last one in January 1982, we now had our 24 qualifiers to join Spain and Argentina.
West Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, USSR, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, England, Yugoslavia, Italy, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Poland, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Honduras, El Salvador, Algeria, Cameroon, Kuwait, New Zealand.