Hosts Qatar will open their Asian Cup defence against Lebanon at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor on January 12, 2024, after the draw for the continental showpiece was held at the Katara Opera House Thursday.
Qatar – who won the Asian Cup for the first time in the 2019 edition held in the UAE – will also play against China and tournament debutants Tajikistan in their other Group A matches.
Since the unimpressive performance of the Qatar team in the World Cup last year, former Real Madrid and Iran coach Carlos Queiroz has replaced long-serving Felix Sanchez and the Portuguese veteran said it was time for Qatar to ‘deliver’ on the pitch. “We want to compete against the best and try to beat the best. It is not about the opponents but about us, and now it is time to deliver, work and be well prepared. The most important thing is to play good football, to have fun and bring as much pride and honour for the country,” Queiroz said Thursday.
Qatar captain Hassan al-Haydos – who was one of the draw assistants at the draw ceremony Thursday – said his team will go with all guns blazing to retain the title. “Playing at the big stage in Asia is always an honour and to be able to defend the trophy at home will be even more special. I can't wait to play in front of our fantastic fans and we will try to do everything to make them proud,” said the Al Sadd forward.
Twenty-four teams from across the continent learned their fate finally Thursday. The tournament was initially slated for this summer with China as hosts, but was moved because of the country's strict Covid rules with Qatar stepping in as hosts. It is the third time the Asian Cup will return to Qatar after they hosted the championship in 1988 and 2011. Eight stadiums, six of which were used at the World Cup, will stage games at the Asian Cup in January-February.
The other five groups have thrown up some interesting contests, with Australia, Uzbekistan, Syria and India all drawn in Group B, while three-time champions Iran faces Palestine, United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong in Group C.
The most successful nation in Asian Cup history, Japan are in a tricky Group D with 2007 winners Iraq, Indonesia, and Vietnam. South Korea, Malaysia, Jordan and Bahrain make up Group E, with Saudi Arabia, also going for a fourth title, in Group F with Oman, Thailand and Kyrgyzstan. The top two from each of the six groups as well as the four best third-placed teams will progress to the knockout stage, with the final to be held at the Al Bayt on February 10.
In his opening address Thursday, watched by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa was confident the tournament will “the greatest edition ever” as he thanked Qatar and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for staging the tournament.
“The last time Qatar hosted the Asian Cup was in 2011 and in just 12 years we have all witnessed an era of great progress. Since then we have expanded the competition to 24 teams and as witnessed at the FIFA World Cup, the teams and players are among the finest in the world. Qatar has earned its place as among the best host nations in global football history,” Sheikh Salman said.
The ceremony was attended by HE President of the Qatar Football Association and Chairman of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023 LOC Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Thani, AFC Executive Office members, representatives of the continental federations, and managers and coaches of the 24 participating teams.
South Korea’s coach Jurgen Klinsmann said he expected the Asian Cup to ‘be as fantastic a tournament as the World Cup.’ “The draw is exciting and, for me, it is all about learning now and learning about the opponents, teams and all the coaches that are here. I am sure it will be a fantastic tournament as the World Cup was an outstanding and beautiful tournament,” the former German forward said.
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