So normally we try to keep our content as close to the Magic City as possible. Yet, there are times where really interesting stories resonate with us, and we think they will interest you. In CONCACAF, we are spoiled to have a domestic tournament take place within the region every two years. Europe and South America host their contests every four years. Perhaps the regional crown is less watered down when it’s hosted every four years but that’s neither here nor there.
The Asian Football Confederation had their draw today for the 2019 Asian Cup. The regional tournament for Asia, held every four years, has never been followed closely by fans in this part of the world. Lacking accessible television coverage in the U.S., we have been deprived of a tournament that boasts its fair share of drama. Twenty-four teams qualified for the tournament over multiple rounds of play.
The six groups were filled with teams from four pots. Pot four was the first to be placed with the six teams placed in each group. Bahrain, Jordan, Phillipines, Yemen, North Korea, and Turkmenistan were slotted respectively. From pot 3 India, Palestine, Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam, Lebanon, and Oman.
Interestingly enough, Lebanon and North Korea were both in the same qualification group for the Asian Cup’s third round. Lebanon was the last team to make the cut for qualification into the final round, barely surviving going 1-2-3 in six matches. Being last is sometimes best as Miodrag Radulovic’s squad went 5-1-0 in the final round, earning top marks of all nations with 16 points in six games.
In pot 2 the nations of Thailand, Syria, China, Iraq, Qatar, and Uzbekistan were slotted into groups respectively. Ending the draw, the top ranked teams in the latest FIFA rankings and the host country were to be selected. The United Arab Emirates as hosts were placed in group 1 followed by defending champions Australia, South Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Japan.
When looking at the groups there are some huge marquee matchups based on tensions on and off the pitch. The tournament will have four third-place teams make the knock out stage. Iran (Group D) is the highest ranked team according to FIFA’s latest rankings in the Asian confederation. They have been placed with Iraq and will square off in a match that will carry huge geo-political tensions with it. Vietnam and Yemen fall outside of FIFA’s top 100 and will not play a factor for a third place slot.
Group A may be the most closely contested group as only the hosts hold a FIFA Rank inside the top 100. Group B will certainly hold a third place qualifier as Australia, Syria, and Palestine are all ranked in the top 100. Groups C and F also have heavy favorites as Japan and South Korea could sleep walk their way into the knockout stage.
For Lebanon, all their prayers were certainly answered. Being placed in arguably the second easiest group, the 82nd ranked FIFA squad will go up against the lowest ranked Pot 1 team (Saudi Arabia), the second lowest ranked pot 2 team (Qatar), and 112th ranked North Korea. Picking up four points against North Korea in the final round of qualification, including a 5-0 win in Beirut, Lebanon surely factors into a knockout stage spot and could have an outside chance at winning the group outright.
The 2019 Asian Cup will be contested in January, where the winner will earn a birth in the 2021 FIFA Confederations Cup. There is a chance for the tournament runner-up to also play in the 2021 tournament, as Qatar lost the rights to hosting the cup. Another Asian federation country will host the 2021 tournament, if it happens to be winner, the aforementioned runner-up will be earn a birth against the world’s best.