Sixteen teams from across the continent will vie for glory at the AFC Under-23 Asian Cup Qatar 2024, which runs from April 15-May 3.
Two months on from the conclusion of a spectacular AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023, the Gulf nation will once again be the focus of the continent’s attention when they become the first two-time hosts of the AFC U-23 Asian Cup, having staged the 2016 tournament.
Adding to the stakes, berths for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games are available to the top three finishers, with an additional opportunity for the fourth-placed team on offer via a Playoff against the Confederation of African Football (CAF) representative team Guinea on May 9 in Paris.
Each of the five previous editions have been won by different sides – Iraq, Japan, Korea Republic, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan – and all are in the hunt for a repeat triumph. Along with that quintet, only two other teams – Australia and Jordan – have been involved in every edition, while Indonesia are the sole debutants this year.
The Qualifiers, held last September, whittled a 41-strong cast down to 15 teams that joined automatically qualified hosts, Qatar, and four groups were produced during the final draw in November.
The first match of the AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qatar 2024 kicks off at 4pm on April 15 at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha between Group A duo Australia and Jordan. The Olyroos, fourth in 2022, are looking to better their best result of third from 2020 and are meeting Jordan for the third time at this stage, having won once (2022) and drawn once (2016) previously. Al-Nashama’s U-23s will be drawing inspiration from their seniors’ historic run to the AFC Asian Cup, as they seek a fourth Knockout Stage appearance.
After missing the inaugural edition in 2013, Qatar have reeled off five consecutive qualifications and the home side will welcome Indonesia in the second Group A fixture at 6.30pm at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha. A third-place finish in 2018 is the furthest Qatar have gone and also the last time they advanced past the group stage, while the Indonesians will aim to make waves on their bow after becoming the 25th different team in tournament history to qualify.
The thrilling action continues the next day on April 16 when contenders from Groups B and C take to the pitch. At the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium at 4pm, 2016 winners Japan meet China PR for the first time as they eye a fifth Quarter-final progression, with the latter – who did not participate in 2022 – determined to reach the Knockouts for the first time ever in their fifth Finals.
The second Group B tie sees Korea Republic do battle with the United Arab Emirates at 6.30pm at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium. Champions in 2020, the young Taeguk Warriors are the only team to reach the Quarter-finals of every edition and a last-eight exit in 2022 was their first time finishing outside of the top four. Three-time Quarter-finalists themselves (2013, 2016, 2020), UAE are at their fifth Finals and will want to make up for their Group Stage elimination in 2022.
Also at 6.30pm, Group C will get underway when Iraq and Thailand square off at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah. Victors of the inaugural edition in 2013, Iraq face the Southeast Asians for the second time after their Group Stage draw in 2020 saw the latter progress at their expense. Making it to the Quarter-finals that year is the furthest that the Thais have ever gone and a second Knockout Stage involvement will be the target on their fifth appearance.
Saudi Arabia, who became the first team in history to lift the trophy without conceding a single goal in 2022, then embark on their title defence at 9pm at the Khalifa International Stadium against Tajikistan. The Central Asians were defeated in their previous tournament meeting in 2022 on their maiden appearance and are on a quest to claim their first ever point at the Finals this time.
Group D swings into play on April 17 at 4pm with Uzbekistan being pitted against Malaysia at the Khalifa International Stadium. Champions in 2018, fourth in 2020 and runners-up in 2022, the Uzbeks are hunting another deep run in the competition as they face a Malaysian side that has earned consecutive qualifications for the first time after reaching the quarter-finals on their debut in 2018.
The first round of matches concludes in the evening at 6.30pm with the encounter between Vietnam and Kuwait at the Al Janoub Stadium. The Southeast Asians recorded their best finish in 2018 by placing second and reached the Knockouts for a second time in 2022 where they were quarter-finalists, while their opponents are hunting a first ever Group Stage win on their third tournament appearance.
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