Earlier today the draw for the Asian Cup 2015 was held in Melbourne, Australia. The competition will be staged in Australia for the first time and will take place from the 4th to 26th January 2015. The continental tournament sees 16 teams compete for the chance to be crowned Asia’s Kings.
Before we delve into the results of the draw, however, a little bit about some AFC nuances when it comes to qualifying. The Asian Football Confederation decreed that as of the 2011 edition the top 3 placed teams as well as the hosts plus one AFC Challenge cup winner will automatically qualify for the finals. Got all that? OK. A strange system which I don’t agree with at all, but that is another matter. What does matter this time around is that hosts Australia also placed second in the 2011 edition of the Asian Cup. That left the AFC with a bit of a problem, so they decided another AFC Challenge Cup winner would get that 5th “fast lane” qualification; a worthy choice might I add, as I think Asia’s less developed footballing nations ought to have a go at the continental feast. But what in effect that means is that already qualified to the finals we have: Australia (Hosts), Japan (2011 Champions), South Korea (3rd place in 2011), North Korea (AFC 2012 Challenge Cup Winner), Unknown (AFC 2014 Challenge Cup Winner).
For those of you that are quick with their maths you can see that this leaves us with 11 spots. An awkward number that for football qualifiers/tournaments. So to combat the oddity the AFC decided on five groups of four, with the two winners automatically qualifying alongside the best 3rd placed team.
Now with all that nonsense explained, to the important bit we go; the draw and some of our thoughts on the groups:
Group A – Jordan, Syria, Oman, Singapore
A group comprising of three West Asian teams and relative minnows Singapore. Jordan and Oman are already competing for a World Cup spot in the same group currently, so they will know each other well by the time they match up for these qualifiers. Syria also have a gifted team who did well in the 2011 Asian Cup, they were unlucky to be victims of a shocking (and too commonplace in Asian football) administrative error by their FA which saw them unceremoniously ejected from the qualifiers after fielding an ineligible player against Tajikstan. Thus, they will have much to prove. The two spots will be keenly contested here with Singapore being the projected whipping boys.
Group B – Iran, Kuwait, Thailand, Lebanon
Three times Champions Iran and one time winners Kuwait will do battle with constantly improving Thailand and Lebanon who have impressed so far in their World Cup qualifying campaign (incidentally they beat Iran 1-0 in September 2012 in those very qualifiers). This all makes for a very tough group and one which is difficult to call. Iran should see themselves through with the experience they have, however Lebanon can stir things up and cause an upset, while Thailand are impressive on their day. Kuwait have never regained the dizzying heights they achieved in the 1980’s, but after failing to make the last round of the World Cup 2014 qualifiers and scoring exactly 0 points in the 2011 Asian Cup, the onus is on them to perform and qualify.
Group C – Iraq, China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia
A collective and telling groan went up from the Chinese camp when Iraq were drawn as the top seeds out of the hat to complete the group this morning. The two sides have met with regularity in qualifiers recently and Iraq have ended a few of China’s qualification attempts prematurely of late. A group of death…or not. On paper this group is very difficult looking, however recent results for China and Saudi Arabia have been poor and have seen them plummet down the FIFA world rankings. Indonesia will struggle to make much of an impact away from home, but have many passionate fans in Jakarta. Saudi Arabia and Iraq contested the 2007 Asian Cup final, and while both are far away from the form that saw them get there, their match ups should be exciting and well contested. Having said all that, no other team from any other group would fancy being here, China and Saudi have only one way to go and that is up.
Group D – Qatar, Bahrain, Yemen, Malaysia
Another West Asian dominated group, this time the group is rather more skewed. Qatar and Bahrain are the teams to watch here, Yemen and Malaysia will likely struggle over the course of the qualifiers. Qatar, who are hosting the 2022 World Cup, will be looking to continue to improve until then and with their current World Cup qualification progressing relatively solidly, they will want to add another major tournament to their list of competitions before they host the grandest one of them all.
Group E – Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Hong Kong.
Uzbekistan will look to continue their impressive early qualifying record where they seem to collect almost maximum points every time. Their Semi Final finish in 2011 was their best yet and they will hope to shake things up once again. The UAE impressed at the Olympics with their exciting and extremely watchable brand of flair football, they will also hope to be at the tournament in Australia and will be a joy to watch. Vietnam while having made huge strides in football of late (especially after co=hosting in 2007 and making the quarter finals), will be an outside bet to cause an upset.
Ties will be played between 6th February 2013 & 5th March 2014. Join us for coverage on Twitter and on the blog.