It’s only a matter of weeks until the whole planet goes football crazy for the World Cup in Russia – but anticipation is also reaching fever pitch for another massive sporting spectacle. The draw has now been made for the 2019 Asian Cup, a prestigious continental competition which will see a record 24 teams (split into six groups of four) vying for glory.
The tournament, which will take place between January 5 and February 1 2019 across eight locations, will serve up the richest prize in Asian footballing history with a huge USD15 million purse on offer. The Asian Cup is the second oldest continental tournament in the world of football (after the Copa America) with next year marking the seventeenth hosting of the event, dating back to 1956, when South Korea were inaugural champions in Hong Kong. Japan are the most successful side in Asian Cup history with four wins, ahead of countries like Iran, which have a hat-trick of victories. The winners of the tournament not only get to be known as the best team in all of Asia, they also book their ticket for the FIFA Confederations Cup (also known as the Mini FIFA World Cup) held every four years in the year prior to the World Cup hosting.
Coached by Felix Sanchez since 2017 (replacing Uruguayan Jorge Fossati), Qatar is also one of the 24 participating teams and spirits are high. Qatar was drawn with Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and North Korea in Group E. Proud hosts of the 2022 World Cup, they staged the region’s premier football event in Doha back in 2011 when Japan emerged as the champions of Asia. Qatar also hosted the event in 1988.
With nine previous appearances in the AFC Asian Cup, Qatar has progressed to just two quarter-finals, but they are as determined as ever to up that.
Reigning champions Australia will be determined to defend the crown they won on home soil in 2015 after a thrilling extra-time win over South Korea. The Antipodeans will be among the favourites to retain the title, but face fierce competition from the likes of Japan,
South Korea and Iran.
The biggest ever Asian Cup is set to be the best one ever, too, with several teams also showcasing their skills in Russia this summer. Perennial qualifiers Japan, South Korea, Iran and Australia will be looking to build momentum with strong showings in Russia this month. A feast of football awaits – we can’t wait for it to start.
For more information, visit www.the-afc.com/ competitions/afc-asian-cup.
Bahrain, India, Thailand, UAE
One to Watch – India: India remained the only South Asian team to qualify for the tournament. Despite a bitter end to the Asian campaign in all three of India’s group games previously in Qatar, they are very hopeful this time.
Australia, Jordan, Palestine, Syria
One to Watch – Australia: The golden age of the likes of Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka may be a fading memory, but Australia still possess a big match temperament and proved last time out in 2015 that they have what it takes to rule over Asia.
China, Korea Republic, Kyrgyz Republic, Philippines
One to Watch – Korea Republic: One of Asia’s most potent sides, the South Koreans will pose a serious goal threat to all-comers with Tottenham striker Son Heung-Min ready to shine on the international stage alongside former Sunderland man Ji Dong-won.
Iran, Iraq, Vietnam, Yemen
One to Watch – Iran: Write off this Iran side at your peril. They cruised through qualification for the 2018 World Cup and will have their sights firmly set on securing a record-equalling fourth Asian Cup trophy – and a first since 1976.
Lebanon, North Korea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia
One to Watch – Qatar: They’ve appeared nine times but only progressed to the quarter-finals twice. Led by Felix Sanchez, this is a squad that is on the up and ready to make a big challenge.
Japan, Oman, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
One to Watch – Japan: The most successful side in Asian Cup history will be going all out to make up for a disappointing 2015 campaign and should ease their way into the knock-out stages, where greater challenges will await.