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The AFC Asian Cup takes place every four years, having had its first edition in 1956. Since then only seven teams have lifted the title, with a further four managing a runners-up place at best.
Saudi Arabia, Japan and Iran have won three titles each, South Korea two, and Kuwait and Iraq one. The remaining team is Israel, which won the 1964 tournament before later joining UEFA and leaving AFC.
The earliest tournaments had just four qualifying teams, then later five, followed by six: by 1980 ten teams were able to take part, and while this was temporary decreased to eight, by 1996 there were twelve.
The 21st century has brought big changes for the AFC Asian Cup. At China 2004, there were sixteen teams: three years later the tournament was moved to an odd year to allow for a greater spreading of international matches across the world. Thus a selection of South East Asian nations hosted the '07 cup, which was won - surprisingly - by Iraq, who beat Saudi Arabia in the final. South Korea edged Japan for third place.
This brings us to Qatar 2011. This is the first time Qatar have hosted the tournament since 1988: then, as now, it will be played in the winter time instead of in the heat of July.
Sixteen teams will play at the AFC Asian Cup of 2011. Of these, four qualified automatically: Qatar as hosts, and Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea as respective first to third finishers in the 2007 edition of the competition.
Ten of the remaining twelve qualified through a traditional preliminary round, comprising five groups, each sending one winner and one runner-up to the tournament. The remaining teams qualified by winning the AFC Challenge Cup for emerging footballing nations: there were India in 2008 and North Korea in 2010.
Below is the group stage setup, which was determined by a draw in Doha on April 23rd. Teams are ordered by their seeding. Click each team to visit its Goal.com profile.
|Group A||Group B|
|Group C||Group D|
What to look out for
Not an expert on the Asian game? Have no fear. Here we bring together brief snippets about each team involved and also name a star player to watch out for. Of course you can find out a lot more in our Asian Cup team profiles to really go in-depth.
- Qatar: Under French boss Bruno Metsu the hosts are in a mixed run of form, but a home field advantage may boost Qatar's chances. They are top seeds due to their hosting the tournament. Star attacker-cum-midfielder Sebastian Soria, born in Uruguay, has a chance to prove himself.
- Uzbekistan: Central Asia's sleeping giant finished second on goal difference to the UAE during qualifying but know that they are capable of better. There is undoubted pedigree in the team, with former AFC Player of the Year Server Djeparov being one of the many foreign exports - he plays in South Korea.
- China: Another team that hasn't hit its undoubted potential, China has yet to turn population into power on the football pitch. Indeed, local fans feel that this current squad lacks even the modest pedigree of years past. Key defender Du Wei and company have critics to silence.
- Kuwait: Perhaps the strongest of all the fourth seeds - North Korea and their World Cup adventure notwithstanding - Kuwait cannot be written off. They generally play a defensive game against better sides, which could frustrate the likes of Uzbeikstan. Bader Al Mutwa is the team's go-to man up front.
- Saudi Arabia: 2007's second-place finish was a bitter disappointment for the famously passionate Saudi fans - but not as much of a crushing blow as failing to reach the South Africa 2010 World Cup. Still, they're always at their best on Asian soil and will count on the likes of young skipper Yasser Al Qahtani to reach at least the final four.
- Japan: Hot favourites to progress alongside, or even ahead of Saudi Arabia, Japan have a young, talented and dynamic squad at the disposal of new coach Alberto Zaccheroni, who has gone against the grain by calling for defensive play. Shinji Kagawa was absent from the World Cup but is set to star in this tournament.
- Jordan: A largely unknown quantity even in West Asia, Jordan are ranked third in the group and will do well to progress. They have an experienced coach in the former of Adnan Hamad but a lack of top-level experience among the Nashama may cost them. Goalkeeper Amer Sabah, one of the stars of Jordan's quarter-final finish in 2004, is the key player.
- Syria: Even moreso than Jordan, Syria are rank outsiders. They have recently appointed a new coach in the form of Romanian Valeiru Tita, who at least has the advantage of being a veteran of Syrian football. This is an overwhelmingly local-based squad, with skipper and star striker Firas Al Khatib being one of the few successful exports, playing in Kuwait.
- South Korea: That famous East Asian powerhouse is back in an attempt to end their bizarre Asian Cup hoodoo. Believe it or not they haven't won this tournament since 1960. Fans will hope that a largely positive showing in South Africa, coupled with some great young talent, will change all that. Manchester United's on-form Ji-Sung Park is the man to watch.
- Australia: The Socceroos only joined AFC in time for the 2007 edition of the competition, but despite their continental pedigree are among the favourites to reach the semi-finals. A very experienced team that wants only for firepower, they are to be feared. Tim Cahill is a Premier League star and will be the man who keeps opposing coaches up at night.
- Bahrain: The tiny island nation only just missed out on the 2010 World Cup and despite their small stature are considered one of West Asia's up-and-comers. A home draw with Japan during qualifying marks this team out as hard to beat: for goals, Nigeria-born Jaycee John is relied upon to hit the net.
- India: India qualify by virtue of being 2008 Challenge Cup winners. That tournament was on their own turf and was, of course, three years ago: since then the boys in blue have sadly improved little. Still, Bob Houghton is a shrewd manager and Subrata Paul is the kind of 'keeper who can pull off shocks.
- Iraq: 2007's shock winners are not among the favourites but nonetheless have a good young squad that frequently picks up local trophies. Like a lot of West Asian countries the team lacks experience outside the region - not that this stopped Younis Mahmoud from being the undoubted star forward of the last tournament.
- Iran: Considering the raw talent that seeps from the country, Iran are definite underachievers. They haven't won since 1976 and local fans will note with sadness that despite the success of Zob Ahan at club level, the national team is not in a good run of form. That said, Javad Nekounam is among the top five players in Qatar this month.
- UAE: A mainstay of the tournament, the United Arab Emirates have surprisingly never won the Asian Cup and indeed haven't made it out of the first round since 1996. The fans aren't likely to hope for much beyond a chance at the quarter-finals. Look out for star forward Ismail Matar of Al-Wahda, where he plays alongside Fernando Baiano.
- North Korea: And finally, the DPRK, which stunned the world by reaching South Africa 2010. They exited at the first round and were thrashed by Portugal but also managed to almost match Brazil. Since that tournament they've replaced their coach and are recently unbeaten. Bochum's Jong Tae-Se is the imposing forward who'll lead the line.
In the group stage, each team plays each one of its group-mates once. Teams level on points at the end of the group stage are separated by head-to-head, then goal difference, then goal scored. If this doesn't suffice then the team with the better disciplinary record over the three games progresses. If that's even, it's the flip of a coin. The top two teams from each group advance to the knockout round, where group winners face runners-up according to the colour coding above (that is, the winner of group A plays the runner-up of group B, the winner of group B plays the runner-up of group A, and so on.)
|1 - A1 vs B2
Jan 21 19:25
5 - Winner 1 vs Winner 2
Jan 25 16:25
2 - D1 vs C2
Jan 22 19:25
Final - Winner 5 vs Winner 6
Jan 29 18:00
Third-Place Play-Off - Loser 5 vs Loser 6
Jan 28 18:00
3 - B1 vs A2
Jan 21 16:25
6 - Winner 3 vs Winner 4
Jan 25 19:25
4 - C1 vs D2
Jan 22 16:25
From there, as you can see above, it's a straight knockout competition, with the first knockout round being the quarter finals, followed by the semi-final, and then a third-place play-off for the semi-final losers and, of course, the grand final.
- 7-19 January: Group stage (16 teams)
- 21-22 January: Quarter-finals (8 teams)
- 25 January: Semi-finals (4 teams)
- 28 January: Third-place play-off (2 teams)
- 29 January: Final
We have loads of content already produced and of course plenty more coming up.
- Team Profiles: You can find all sixteen Asian Cup 2011 team profiles here.
- Player Profiles: Goal.com's Chris Paraskevas has picked his ten Asian Cup players to watch here.
- News: We have reporters on the ground in Qatar, including Goal.com Arabic operatives and special guest reporter Rahul Bali from Goal.com India. Along with our Asia-spanning and world-wide team of experts they'll be bringing you the lowdown on all the goings-on at the tournament, so check out our Asian Cup news list today.
- Match Coverage: With live commentaries for the biggest games - including all the knockout matches - and previews and reports for all games throughout the tournament, you won't miss a second of the action. The Asian Cup fixtures and results are waiting for you here, and of course we have Asian Cup live scores, too.
- Ratings & Rankings: Enjoy player ratings for all the biggest matches, and as always we'll bring you the Team of the Round and Team of the Tournament specials that help you discover the talents setting Asia alight.
- Editorial & Opinion: Goal.com International leads the world in football editorial, but we couldn't do it without our friends across the other editions. That's why, as well as our usual editorial line-up, you'll enjoy content from across Asia, from Saudi Arabia right through to Japan, and from Australia to India, throughout the tournament.