Debutants add lustre to Continental showpiece
Kuala Lumpur: With the countdown timer reaching six months to go, the 24 teams have already laid their plans for the buildup to the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019.
While Asia’s top five teams have just finished their 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia campaign, the rest have begun preparations for the Continental showpiece on January 5-February 1, 2019.
Adding to the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 will be several debutants and join the-AFC.com as we take a look at the cast for Groups A, B and C.
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United Arab Emirates
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: Nine (1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2015)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Runners-up (1996)
World Ranking: 77
Despite receiving direct qualification to the Finals, UAE finished as one of the top four runners-up teams in the second round of the Qualifiers, progressing into the FIFA World Cup final round qualifiers, where Ahmed Khalil scored five goals to share the top scorer honours with three others, but missed out on Russia 2018 after finishing fourth in Group B.
Back in January, UAE showed their prowess at the 23rd Gulf Cup, opening their campaign with a 1-0 win over Oman, but drew with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to finish second in Group A to advance to the semi-finals.
UAE then beat Iraq 4-2 on penalties, to seal a final showdown with Oman, but eventually lost 5-4 in a penalty shoot-out. Alberto Zaccheroni’s charges will now turn to home support as they host the AFC Asian Cup for the second time since 1996
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: Six (1972, 1992, 1996, 200, 2004, 2007)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Third place (1972)
World Ranking: 122
Thailand impressed in the second round of the Qualifiers, topping Group F with four wins and two draws and were the only Southeast Asian team to advance to the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, eventually finishing last in Group B.
Shortly after, the War Elephants recorded consecutive friendly wins against Myanmar and Kenya, before hosting the 2018 Kings Cup where they beat Gabon 4-2 on penalties before suffering a slim 3-2 loss to Slovakia in the final. Thailand were then beaten by China PR with a brace from Wu Lei in June.
Milovan Rajevac’s men will now look ahead to the 2018 AFF Championship in November as their final preparation before UAE 2019.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: Three (1964, 1984, 2011)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Runners-up (1964)
World Ranking: 97
India were sublime in the final round of the Qualifiers, securing four consecutive wins in Group A, before being held to a 2-2 draw by Myanmar and suffering a narrow 2-1 loss to Kyrgyz Republic, tieing with the Central Asians on 13 points but claiming top spot on away goals.
The Blue Tigers have continued to grow from strength to strength to become dark horses in UAE 2019, especially after claiming the 2018 Intercontinental Cup in June by beating Kenya 2-0.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: Five (1988, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2015)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Fourth place (2004)
World Ranking: 113
Bahrain began their 2019 Qualifying campaign with a goalless draw with Singapore, but then secured back-to-back wins against Turkmenistan and Chinese Taipei. The East Asian side exacted revenge in the return leg with a 2-1 win.
Undeterred, Bahrain returned to winning form with consecutive triumphs over Singapore and Turkmenistan to finish as Group E leaders.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: Three (2007, 2011, 2015)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Champions (2015)
World Ranking: 36
The title holders confirmed their place in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 after a convincing qualifying campaign, topping Group B with seven wins and one loss. However, the Socceroos missed out on direct qualification to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia after finishing third, instead advancing to the Continental Playoff against Syria.
After a 1-1 draw in the first leg, Tim Cahill rose to the occasion to score a brace and seal a 2-1 victory, to advance to the Inter-continental Play-off with Honduras, where Mile Jedinak’s hat-trick secured 3-1 win and Asia’s fifth berth at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Prior to Russia 2018, Australia replaced Islamic Republic of Iran as Asia’s top ranked team. Despite a group stage exit in the FIFA World Cup, the Socceroos will be confident of defending their AFC Asian Cup title.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: 5 (1980, 1984, 1988, 1996, 2011)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Group Stage
World Ranking: 73
Syria secured their spot in UAE 2019 as one of the top four runners-up in the Qualifiers, with an impressive tally of 18 points, four points shy of group E table toppers Japan. Similar to Australia, Syria finished third in Group A but lost to the Socceroos in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Continental Playoff.
Although the Qasioun Eagles have had little international exposure since the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, they will be a force to be reckoned with in UAE 2019.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearance: One (2015)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Group Stage
World Ranking: 99
Palestine made their first appearance at Australia 2015, where they finished last in Group D. However, it has been four years since, and the West Asian nation have made great strides.
Palestine scored 25 goals and conceded only three in their qualifying campaign to finish with 15 points, tied with Oman but a one-goal difference saw them finishing as Group D runners-up.
They have several friendlies lined before the Finals in January, which should set them up perfectly for their Group B challenges.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: Three (2004, 2011, 2015)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Quarter-finals (2004, 2011)
World Ranking: 110
Jordan completed their qualifying campaign without losing a game, clinching top spot in Group C with three wins and three draws.
The West Asian team have not won any silverware since the 1999 Pan Arab Games, and after two AFC Asian Cup quarter-final exits, Jamal Abu-Abed’s charges will look to end their drought on the Continental stage.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: 13 (1956, 1960, 1964, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2015)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Champions (1956, 1960)
World Ranking: 57
After suffering heartbreak from a last-gasp goal by James Troisi in Australia 2015, Korea Republic showcased their prowess in the 2019 Qualifiers, claiming a perfect record of eight wins without conceding a single goal.
The Taeguk Warriors recently made headlines in Russia 2018, when they beat defending World Cup champions Germany 2-0, eliminating them in the process to finish third in Group F. Despite the early exit, Shin Tae-yong’s charges proved to the world that they are a force to be reckoned with as they aim for a third Continental title.
Previous AFC Asian Cup Appearances: 11 (1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2015)
AFC Asian Cup Record: Runners-up (1984, 2004)
World Ranking: 75
China PR will be aiming to shine in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 after missing out on the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
They have bounced back well, beating Myanmar 1-0 and Thailand 2-0 in recent friendlies and with several more friendlies planned before the Continental showpiece, Marcello Lippi’s side will be a team to watch in the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
AFC Asian Cup Record: Debutants
World Ranking: 115
Philippines produced an outstanding performance in the Qualifiers to finish as Group F winners, with three wins and three draws. In their final qualifying match against Tajikistan, the Azkals’ 2-1 triumph was a historic win for the Philippines, as they qualified to the AFC Asian Cup Finals for the first time.
The team will carry the hopes and dreams of the nation as they set out to make an impact against the Continent’s best.
AFC Asian Cup Record: Debutants
World Ranking: 92
Kyrgyz Republic are one of the three teams in the 2019 edition who will make their debut in the Finals. However, it wasn’t an easy qualification process, being grouped alongside Myanmar, Macau and India in Group A.
The White Falcons, however, showed their quality as they suffered just one loss - to India - in the entire qualifying campaign, and finished second in the group only on goal difference.
Like the Philippines, Kyrgyz Republic will be on a mission to make it a debut to remember.
Photos: AFC, AFP