The Asian Football Confederation was allocated four and half qualifying berths for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, South Korea and Japan, the co-hosts, qualified automatically, leaving two and half spots open for competition between 40 teams. Myanmar withdrew from the tournament after being placed in Group 2 but before any matches had been played, therefore reducing the group to 3 teams.
First Stage: The 39 teams were divided into 9 groups of 4 teams each, and 1 group of 3 teams. The teams played against each other twice, except in Group 2, where the teams played against each other once. The group winners would advance to the Final Round.
Second Stage: The 10 teams were divided into 2 groups of 5 teams. The teams played against each other on a home-and-away basis. The group winners would qualify. The runners-up would advance to the AFC Play-off.
Play-off: The 2 teams played against each other on a home-and-away basis. The winner would advance to the UEFA/AFC Intercontinental Play-off.