June 14 – India, Palestine, Hong Kong, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Thailand have all booked a spot at the 2023 Asian Cup after Palestine thrashed the Philippines 4-0.
Saleh Chihadeh, Tamer Seyam, Mohammed Yamin and Mahmoud Abu Warda were on the scoresheet for Palestine in their third consecutive Group B win, enough to ensure their own progress as well as that of six other nations. The Palestinians participated in the 2015 and 2019 editions of the Asian Cup, but never progressed from the group stages.
The winners of the six qualifying groups will advance with the five best runners-up to the finals tournament. It means that all of India, Hong Kong, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Thailand will participate in next year’s continental championship.
Between 1984 and 2011, India never qualified for the Asian Cup. Now, for the first time ever, the team has achieved back-to-back qualification. India, then, have benefitted from the expansion of the tournament, which was staged for the first time in a 24-team format in 2019. In Group D, Hong Kong, on six points, have also qualified. The former British colony will return to the finals for the first time since 1968. Hong Kong and India will meet on Tuesday in Kolkata.
In Group F, central Asian duo Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan will also progress. Kyrgyzstan were also present in the United Arab Emirates in 2019, but for Tajikistan, it will be a maiden participation. Thailand qualified for five consecutive Asian Cups between 1992 and 2007 before returning to the finals in 2019. They will play fellow finalists Uzbekistan for the top spot in Group C.
With the playing field shaping up, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) will be under increasing pressure to award the hosting rights for the 2023 Asian Cup after original hosts China withdrew because of the country’s zero Covid-19 policy.
That decision has left the AFC scrambling. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, India and Iran are bidding for the 2027 finals. Both Arab countries have the infrastructure to stage Asian Cup at short notice. Qatar will host the World Cup in November and December while Saudi Arabia is investing in an upgrade of their facilities. Japan has indicated that it would be keen to host the finals, but the short timeline could be too much of a hurdle to overcome.
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