Dubai: After more than three years of qualifying suspense, Asia’s best 24 teams finally discovered their AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Group Stage challengers on Friday.
In a grand spectacle at the United Arab Emirates Burj Khalifa, hosts UAE, who were positioned in first place in Group A, will kick-off Asia’s most prestigious tournament against Bahrain at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi on January 5, 2019.
The host nation will be looking to improve on their second place finish the last time the competition was held in the UAE in 1996, but will face formidable opponents in India and Thailand who complete the cast in Group A.
Meanwhile defending champions Australia were drawn in Group B with 2004 and 2011 quarter-finalists Jordan, Palestine, and Syria, who return to the competition following their absence in Australia 2015.
Continent powerhouses and 2015 finalists Korea Republic, who are on the hunt for their first title since 1960, were drawn in Group C with two-time runners-up China PR as well as two debutants in the UAE 2019 - Kyrgyz Republic and Philippines.
Asia’s best ranked side, Islamic of Republic of Iran who are looking to secure their fourth title and their first since 1976, were drawn in Group D alongside 2007 winners Iraq, Vietnam and Yemen, who will be appearing in their first tournament since their unification.
In Group E, two-time champions Saudi Arabia were drawn with 2011 hosts Qatar, Lebanon, who will be returning to the competition for only the second time after a 19 year absence as well as DPR Korea.
The tournament’s most successful side with four titles, Japan are in Group F and will face Uzbekistan, who have progressed past the group stage for the last four editions of the competition as well as Oman and Turkmenistan.
In an action-packed night graced by some of the biggest names in Asian football, the final draw also introduced a USD$14.8 million total prize money, the unveiling of a stunning new trophy, a cutting-edge Molten match ball and the launch of the tournament’s official mascots – Mansour and Jarrah.
The Zayed Sports City Stadium will also host the final on February 1, 2019 after 28 days of enthralling action with the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium and Al Nahyan Stadium hosting the remaining matches in Abu Dhabi.
Hazza bin Zayed Stadium and the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium will host the matches in Al Ain and Sharjah Stadium in the Emirate of Sharjah. Al Maktoum Stadium and Al Rashid Stadium are the two venues in Dubai.