The biggest and second-oldest continental football championship, the Asian Cup 2023 is all set to begin tonight, January 12, with the host Qatar taking on Lebanon at the Lusail stadium, where the finals will also be played on February 10.
The competition was originally slated to take place in June and July of last year, but it had to be postponed as the original host China opted not to hold the AFC Asian Cup due to its zero-COVID policy and the COVID-19 epidemic. Eventually, Qatar was announced as the tournament’s host nation. Following their successful FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 organisation, Qatar will now look to defend their AFC Asian Cup title at home.
There are a total of 24 teams that have been divided into six groups.
Groups are as follows:
Group A: Qatar, China, Tajikistan, Lebanon
Group B: Australia, Uzbekistan, Syria, and India
Group C: Iran, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Palestine
Group D: Japan, Indonesia, Iraq, Vietnam
Group E: South Korea, Malaysia, Jordan, Bahrain
Group F: Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman
The top two teams in each group, along with the four best-ranked third-place teams, will progress to the round of 16.
Australia, Japan, and South Korea will be among the main contenders to win the title. Along with them, the Middle Eastern nations certainly have their favourites, including Qatar, the reigning champions, and Saudi Arabia, a regional behemoth.
India, being placed in Group B, doesn’t stand much chance as they will be facing top-tier nations like Australia on January 13 and Uzbekistan on January 18, who are also strong contenders to qualify for the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2026.
The Sunil Chhetri-led side did put on a strong and impressive show last time around when they defeated Thailand by 4-1 in their opening game. India, then coached by Stephen Constantine, was at the top of their group until the last match, where they narrowly lost to Bahrain to bow out of the competition.
This time too, the Blue Tigers’ best chance would be to steal a point from the first two games and clinch all three points from their last encounter against Syria on January 23.
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