Asia's leading football tournament will welcome 24 teams competing across 51 games in the 2019 Asian Cup which gets underway in five days in the United Arab Emirates. It is the first time the tournament has been played with 24 teams (up from 16) and is expected to attract more supporters, resulting in a well-attended tournament.

The defending champions, the Socceroos, will be at the AFC Asian Cup 2019 for the fourth time. The three other occasions were 2007, 2011 and 2015. In 2015, they hosted the championship and attained the title by winning 2-1 against South Korea, after having been runners-up to Japan in 2011.

The qualification process for the Asian Cup is quite complicated, especially as the number of teams has expanded. As a reminder, the qualification structure was as follows:

  • First round: A total of 12 teams (teams ranked 35–46) played home-and-away over two legs. The six winners advanced to the second round.
  • Second round: A total of 40 teams (teams ranked 1–34 and the six first round winners) were divided into eight groups of five teams to play home-and-away round-robin matches. The eight group winners and the four best group runners-up advanced to the third round of FIFA World Cup qualification as well as qualified for the AFC Asian Cup finals. The next 16 highest ranked teams (the remaining four group runners-up, the eight third-placed teams and the four best group fourth-placed teams) advanced directly to the third round of Asian Cup qualification. The remaining 12 teams entered the play-off round to contest the remaining eight spots in the third round of Asian Cup qualification. 
  • Play-off round: At an AFC Competitions Committee meeting in November 2014, it was decided that a qualifying play-off round would be introduced into the qualification procedure. There were two rounds of home-and-away two-legged play-off matches to determine the final eight qualifiers for the third round.
  • Third round: The 24 teams were divided into six groups of four to play home-and-away round-robin matches, and they competed for the remaining slots of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

Due to the joint format of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers and AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, the hosts of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, the UAE, were also entered in the second round of AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, having qualified automatically.

The opening match will see hosts UAE take on Bahrain, while China and India are also part of an evenly matched Group A.

Group B will see one of the tournament favourites Australia facing all Middle Eastern opponents, taking on Palestine and rising powers Jordan and Syria.

Two of the unknown teams, Kyrgyzstan and Philippines, will have their first appearance in this tournament and have been drawn in group C along with China and Asian heavyweight South Korea. 

In Group D, 2018 World Cup Iran participants will have to hold on to their position at Asian level against Iraq, Vietnam and Yemen. Al-Yaman A'Sa'eed (The Happy Yemen) are making their appearance for the first time.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lebanon, and North Korea have been drawn for Group E, making it easy to predict the winner. 

Last but not least, Group F will see one of the other favourites of the continent, Japan, taking on Uzbekistan, Oman and Turkmenistan. 

All in all, it seems there will be no big surprises. Japan and Saudi Arabia will be up there but quality-wise, Iran has a very good team with players in various European leagues. On the other hand, such tournaments have shown that often the pre-tournament stars are not there towards the end of the tournament and new stars are born. At any rate, an interesting Asian Cup is upon us which should serve to further raise the profile of Asian football.

During the coming week, the eyes of the football world will also be looking at UAE to see how they host Asia’s premier football competition, although they have had significant event hosting experience for the past decade with the FIFA Club World Cup, as well as the F1 race and other sporting events. 

Later this week, we'll have Paul Williams' exclusive preview of the Asian Cup, as well as Stuart Thomas' preview of Australia's group. 

Categories: Opinion | Asia

2019 asian cup, asian football, #asiancup2019

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