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Anticipating the AFC Asian Cup 2019

November 21st, 2018Football
Football fans across the Middle East and well beyond are looking forward to an imminent festival of the beautiful game hosted in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the beginning of the New Year. The 17th edition of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 kicks off on 5th January with the UAE facing Gulf neighbour Bahrain at Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi. The Final will also be played at the same venue.

For the first time ever, there will be 24 teams from 5 sub-confederations competing in the tournament. The format will be exactly the same as that which governed UEFA Euro 2016. AFC will run from 5th January to the 1st of February 2019 and be played in 8 different stadia spread across 4 cities in the UAE.
Qualified teams by grouping:

Group A: United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Indian and Bahrain
Group B: Australia, Syria, Palestine and Jordan
Group C: South Korea, China PR, Kyrgyzstan and Philippines
Group D: Iran, Iraq, Vietnam and Yemen
Group E: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lebanon and North Korea
Group F: Japan, Uzbekistan, Oman and Turkmenistan

Yemen, Kyrgyzstan and Philippines will make their AFC debuts. Hosts the United Arab Emirates were runners up in 1996. Japan has won the competition four times, with Saudi Arabia and Iran victorious on three occasions.

Stadia:

Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi - Capacity 43,000 [under expansion]
Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi - Capacity 42,056 [under expansion]
Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi - Capacity 12,000 [under expansion]
Al-Maktoum Stadium, Dubai - Capacity 15,000 [under expansion]
Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium, Dubai - Capacity 12,000 [under expansion]
Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain - Capacity 25,965 [under expansion]
Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium, Al Ain - Capacity 16,000 [under expansion]
Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah - Capacity 11,073 [under expansion]


Friendly build up

There are numerous international friendlies which have taken place ahead of the Asian Football Cup 2019 during November, none of which give any real indication of who is in any kind of best form with less than two months to go. Iran beat Trinidad & Tobago by a single goal at home, while Japan drew with Venezuela 1-1 at the Oita Dome on Kyushu Island and the UAE played out a goalless draw with Bolivia at the Maktoum bin Rashid Stadium. Shared honours went to Oman who drew 1-1 with Syria in Muscat, and also Australia, with the Socceroos, who play Lebanon next up, held 1-1 at home against a talented Korean Republic (South Korea) side. India with several key players out, fought back valiantly at the King Abdullah II Stadium, but ultimately suffered a slim 2-1 defeat to Jordan in Amman. More recently, Saudi Arabia pulled off a narrow 1-0 win over Yemen, while the Philippines beat Yemen 2-0 in the previous game.

What does this flurry of friendly games tell us? Not a lot really. Other than India would hope to field a strengthened side in January and the opposition in a few weeks time could certainly prove tougher than Bolivia (FIFA ranking 59), Iran, Australia and Japan are ranked 30th, 42nd and 50th respectively. Nevertheless a respectable performance from the UAE in securing a draw, ranked 22 places below the Bolivians. While Trinidad & Tobago (FIFA ranking 93) might struggle, perhaps not true of Venezuela (FIFA ranking 29) who caused Japan some problems. Still all this leaves plenty of unpredictability all adding to the prospect of a rollercoaster footballing ride.

Dream Team

2.6 million fan votes were also placed during the month to select their Asian Cup XI all time greats dream team plus the coach, a final line up which inspired some heated debate on Facebook, mainly over the exclusions. One correspondent was bemoaning the absence of players from two of the AFC’s multiple champions, the likes of South Korean dynamic duo Park Ji-Sing and Son Heung-Min, along with Japanese stores Hidetoshi Nakata and Shinji Kagawa of Japan. Current title holders Australia did not manage a single member of the squad.

The fan vote for the all time galácticos team members went as follows:
Nasser Hejazi - goalkeeper [Iran], Zeng Zhi - defender [China], Saleh al Nuaimah - defender [Saudi Arabia], Mehdi Mahdavikia - defender [Iran], Ali Karimi - midfielder [Iran], Nashat Akram - midfielder [Iraq], Shao Jiayi - midfielder [China], Server Djeparov midfielder [Uzbekistan], Keisuke Honda - midfielder [Japan], Ali Daei - forward [Iran], Yasser Al Qahtani forward [Saudi Arabia], and last but not least Coach: Heshmat Mohajerani [Iran].

However, returning to the tournament itself and the way it will operate:

Group Stage

Teams in each group play a single round robin. Rules for classification in group stage tables, particularly pertinent to the differentiation of third-placed team rankings:
Criteria 1) Points; Criteria 2) Goal difference; Criteria 3) Goals scored; Criteria 4) Disciplinary points; Criteria 5) Drawing of lots

Knockout Stage

In the knockout stage, extra time and a penalty shoot-out are used to decide the winner if required. A fourth substitution may be made during extra time. At the conclusion of the group stage, the top two teams and the four best third teams will advance to the knockout stage, starting with ‘the round of 16’.

The Round of 16
The specific matchups involving the third-placed teams depend on which four third-placed teams qualify to move forward to join the winners and runners up of the six starting groups when they enter the Round of 16.

20th January Winner Group B v 3rd place Group A/C/D at Al-Maktoum Stadium, Dubai [Match 37]
20th January Runner up Group A v Runner up Group C at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain [Match 38]
20th January Winner Group D v 3rd place Group B/E/F at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi [Match 39]
21st January Winner Group F v Runner up Group E at Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah [Match 40]
21st January Runner Group B v Runner up Group F at Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium, Al Ain [Match 41]
21st January Winner Group A v 3rd place Group C/D/E at Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi [Match 42]
22nd January Winner Group C v 3rd place Group A/B/F at Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium, Dubai [Match 43]
22nd January Winner Group E v Runner up Group D at Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi [Match 45]

Quarter-finals

24th January Winner Match 37 v Winner Match 40 at Al-Maktoum Stadium, Dubai [Match 45]
24th January Winner Match 38 v Winner Match 39 at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi [Match 46]
25th January Winner Match 43 v Winner Match 44 at Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi [Match 47]
25th January Winner Match 42 v Winner Match 41 at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain [Match 48]

Semi-finals

28th January Winner Match 46 v Winner Match 45 at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain [Match 49]
29th January Winner Match 47 v Winner Match 48 Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi [Match 50]

Final

1st February Winner Match 49 v Winner Match 50 at Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi

Players to watch

Most fans, and they will be drawn from all points of the compass, are hoping for a prolific festival of goals, and there are plenty of players from across the participating nations capable of delivering the goods and setting the competition alight. There is Saudi Arabia’s extraordinary Mohammad Ibrahim Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, with 14 goals in the qualifying rounds. Ahmed Khalil Sebait Mubarak Al-Junaibi, the UAE’s finest on 11 well taken goals, closely followed by Jordanian maestro Hamza Al-Dardour on a perfect 10. Then on 8 goals there are: Australia’s Tim Cahill former Everton front man in the English Premier League, Yang Xu the lightning fast Chinese Super League footballer currently starring at Tianjin Quanjian. Also on 8 goals, last but not least, Indian superstar Sunil Chhetri known as Captain Fantastic having scored the joint second highest number of goals in international matches among currently active players, alongside Lionel Messi and only just behind Cristiano Ronaldo.

Outcomes

Winning the 2019 AFC Asian Cup will earn the champions-elect automatic qualification for the 2021 FIFA Confederations Cup, the AFC association which will host the competition is as yet undetermined, following the loss of the rights by 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts, Qatar. The 2021 Confederations Cup host country will have already qualified as hosts, in the event that the selected host country wins the Asian Cup, then the runner-up of that tournament will qualify for the Confederations Cup instead.

It is certainly one of the most prestigious sporting competitions in the region and has a long association with Expat Sport. Naturally winning attracts considerable national kudos and as ever acts as a showcase for the players themselves, but entertainment for the fans who, after all are paying for the privilege, is paramount. Watching outstandingly skilful players perform in a series of finely balanced tactical contests is what most fans crave and indeed all they ask for. So based on previous iterations of the event, supporters heading for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup can expect an exciting tournament.

Expat Sport’s Mac McTiernan takes an inside look at the build up to the rapidly approaching football festival that is the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.