By Samindra Kunti in Doha
May 11 – Qatar and Asian football took centre stage again on Thursday with the draw for the continental finals. The hosts will kick off their title defense against Lebanon, while Group D is shaping up as the “group of death” with Japan, Iraq, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
Football’s focus has returned to Qatar with the draw for the 2023 Asian Cup. In a star-studded show led by Qatari star Hassan Al Haydos and Australia’s Tim Cahill at the Opera House in Doha, 24 teams from across the continent learned their fate after a protracted build-up. The tournament was initially slated for 2023 with China as hosts, but after their withdrawal, it was shifted to 2024.
Those hiccups have not, however, diminished the Asian Football Confederation’s desire to stage another spectacular iteration of their flagship tournament.
In his opening address, with FIFA President Gianni Infantino in attendance, AFC president Sheik Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa reiterated his confidence that the Asian Cup would be “the greatest edition ever” and “a memorable chapter” for the continental game.
In Group A, the hosts and reigning champions Qatar will face China, Tajikistan, and Lebanon. In a replay of a 2019 group match, Carlos Queiroz’s team will open the tournament against Lebanon at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, the same venue for the opening game of last year’s World Cup. Queiroz succeeded Felix Sanchez after Qatar flopped on home soil in the global finals, exiting in the first round.
On the face of it, Group D will be the toughest, reuniting two former winners.
As the most successful nation in the Asian Cup history, Japan heads the group but will face tricky opponents – Iraq, the 2007 winners, and Vietnam, quarter-finalists in the last edition. Indonesia completes Group D.
Group E consists of Korea Republic, Malaysia, Jordan, and Bahrain. “The draw is exciting,” said South Korea coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “It’s all about learning, the teams, and the coaches. It will be a fantastic tournament. The World Cup was unbelievable, outstanding, and beautiful.”
Elsewhere, in Group C, traditional powerhouse Iran was drawn with the UAE, Hong Kong, and Palestine. Finally, Saudi Arabia will play Thailand, Kyrgyz Republic, and Oman in Group F.
It is the third time the continental tournament returns to Qatar after the Gulf nation also organized the Asian Cup in 1988 and 2011. It keeps Qatar at the heart of the game, with Doha also staging the U-23 Asian Cup next year. Last December, Lusail hosted the World Cup final between France and Argentina, the climax of the first global finals in the Gulf.
Six World Cup venues – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Bayt Stadium, Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium, Al Thumama Stadium, Education City Stadium, Khalifa International Stadium – as well as Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium and Abdullah Stadium – will stage the Asian Cup matches, with the opening match taking place on January 12 and the tournament concluding with the final on February 10.
Group A: Qatar, China PR, Tajikistan, Lebanon
Group B: Australia, Uzbekistan, Syria, India
Group C: Iran, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Palestine
Group D: Japan, Indonesia, Iraq, Vietnam
Group E: Korea Republic, Malaysia, Jordan, Bahrain
Group F: Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Kyrgyz Republic, Oman
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