Full focus as UAE 2019 fast approaches
Kuala Lumpur: Asia’s best will head into the next six months with the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 firmly in their sights.
The expanded AFC Asian Cup 2019 will see 24 teams in action, which sets the stage for exciting matches in the Continental showpiece and the-AFC.com takes a look at Groups D, E and F.
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Islamic Republic of Iran
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: 13 (1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2015)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Champions (1976, 1972, 1968)
World Ranking: 37
Iran had a smooth qualifying campaign, emerging unbeaten to top Group A in the second round of qualification. Their only blemish were the 1-1 draws against Oman and Turkmenistan.
Team Melli will be eager to translate their position as one of the Continent's top teams by adding a fourth AFC Asian Cup title.
In the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, Iran finished third in Group B, behind Portugal and group winners Spain. Although disappointed by their first round exit, Iran impressed in Russia, scoring a 1-0 win against Morocco, falling 1-0 to Spain before coming very close to defeating European champions Portugal, eventually settling for a 1-1 draw.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: Eight (1972, 1976, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2015)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Champions (2007)
World Ranking: 89
Iraq finished second in Group F qualifying with three wins and three draws behind group winners Thailand and advanced as the best runners-up.
They made the semi-finals of the Gulf Cup in January before losing 4-2 to UAE on penalties following a 0-0 scoreline after extra time.
Iraq made headlines in February when they beat Saudi Arabia 4-1 in a friendly in Basra and followed that with 3-2 loss to Qatar, a 1-1 stalemate with Syria in the 2018 International Friendship Championship and a 0-0 draw against Palestine in a friendly.
Iraq, as always, will be a team to watch and will be eager to better their fourth place finish of 2015 and add to their majestic triumph of 2007.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: Three (1956, 1960, 2007)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Fourth Place (1956, 1960)
World Ranking: 102
Vietnam qualified for the tournament after finishing second with two wins and four draws behind Group C winners Jordan in the third round of qualifying.
Vietnam will be looking to emulate their juniors who impressed Asia by finishing runners-up in the AFC U23 Championship 2018. Twice fourth in their previous three appearances in the Finals, the Southeast Asians will fancy their chances of advancing to Knockout Stage.
The ASEAN side will use the AFF Championship in November to fine tune their preparations ahead of their AFC Asian Cup 2019 challenge.
AFC Asian Cup Record: Debutants
World Ranking: 133
_(South Yemen qualified for 1976 AFC Asian Cup)_
Yemen advance to UAE 2019 after finishing second with two wins and four draws behind Group F winners Philippines in the third round of qualifying.
Yemen will be hoping to continue the good work from the qualifiers into the Finals on their debut in Asian football’s premier competition.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: Nine (1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2011, 2015, 2019)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Champions (1984, 1988, 1996)
World Ranking: 67
Saudi Arabia qualified for UAE 2019 after finishing second in Group A with six wins and two draws in the second round of qualifying ahead of hosts UAE.
Antonio Pizzi’s men had a slow start in Russia when they went down 5-0 in the opening match to the host nation but their performances improved in the following matches, narrowly losing 1-0 to a Luis Suarez-led Uruguay and then beating Egypt 2-1.
The Green Falcons will feel they are long overdue a fourth AFC Asian Cup title and after their 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia exploits, the West Asians will be with renewed vigour and are surely among the favourites in UAE 2019.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: Nine (1980, 1984, 1992, 1996, 200, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2015)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Quarter-finals (2000, 2011)
World Ranking: 98
Qatar qualified after finishing top of Group C with seven wins, ahead of China PR who were the only team to defeat the West Asians.
The Maroons won the 2018 International Friendship Championship in March after beating Iraq 3-2 and picking up a 2-2 draw against Syria. They will now look ahead to friendlies against Switzerland in November and Vietnam before they embark on their UAE 2019 campaign in January.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: One (2000)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Group stage
World Ranking: 79
Lebanon qualified as Group B winners in the third round of qualifying after producing five wins and a draw, ahead of DPR Korea.
The West Asians will use friendlies against Jordan and Oman in September as well as against an Australian Under-23 side in November as tune-ups before UAE 2019.
Back among Asia’s elite after a 19-year absence, Lebanon’s aim will beto make a mark on the AFC Asian Cup and having easily won Group B of the qualifying stage, they will be worthy opponents.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: Four (1980, 1992, 2011, 2015)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Fourth Place (1980)
World Ranking: 108
DPR Korea finished second behind Lebanon in Group B in the third round of qualifying to advance to UAE 2019.
DPR Korea will be out to impress in their third consecutive appearance in the Finals. Their journey ended in the group stage in the last two editions and this is something they will be aiming to better in UAE 2019.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: Eight (1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2007, 2011, 2015)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Champions (1992, 2000, 2004, 2011)
World Ranking: 61
Japan had an easy qualification campaign as they topped Group E with seven wins that garnered 27 goals and eight clean sheets. Their only blemish was a 0-0 draw to Singapore.
Despite their heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Belgium in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16, Japan would have taken positives from their campaign.
Their preparation for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 includes the Kirin Cup Challenge, ahead of what the Samurai Blue hope will be a fifth Continental title.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: Six (1996, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2015)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Fourth Place (2011)
World Ranking: 95
Group H winners Uzbekistan had a seamless route in qualifying, registering seven wins and a draw and narrowly missed out of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
However, they showed they will be a force to be reckoned with in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 and with quality friendlies and sound preparation, Uzbekistan will be hopeful of emulating their compatriots who won the AFC U23 Championship 2018 in January.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: Three (2004, 2007, 2015)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Group stage
World Ranking: 84
Oman were impressive in qualifying, winning Group D ahead of Palestine on goal difference and this is the form the reigning Gulf Cup champions will want to carry into the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
Their exploits in the Gulf Cup mean they will be a team to watch in the Finals.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearance: One (2004)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Group Stage
World Ranking: 130
Turkmenistan qualified for the tournament after finishing as Group E runners-up in the third round of qualifying.
Their inaugural appearance ended in the group stage in 2004 and Turkmenistan’s aim will be for an extended run in UAE 2019.
Photos: AFC, AFP