Asian Cup preview – Part one: Qualification and stadiums for Qatar 2011 and the history of the tournament

The 15th edition of the AFC Asian Cup gets underway next month from Qatar, who will also host the 2022 World Cup. In part one of A Different League’s preview of the tournament we will look at how the 16 teams reached Qatar 2011, the stadiums they will play in and the history of a tournament stretching back more than 50 years.

The first Asian Cup was played in 1956, hosted by Hong Kong – then a British colony – with the hosts placing third in a round robin format won by Korea Republic. The competition took on the group stage-knockout tournament it still uses today in 1972, when Thailand staged the event and Iran won the second of their three trophies. Iran’s three triumphs make them one of the competitions most successful sides, but Saudi Arabia’s three victories and three runners-up places make them the most decorated country in the tournament’s history.

January’s competition will be the first played under the AFC’s new qualification format. Of the 16 teams competing in Qatar, only 10 had to qualify, with the remaining six reaching the main stage automatically. The half-dozen are hosts Qatar, winners of the 2007 tournament Iraq, 2007 runners-up Saudi Arabia and the third-placed nation from 2007, Korea Republic. They were joined by the last two winners of the AFC Challenge Cup, a competition for developing football nations within the Asian confederation, India, victors in 2008, and 2010’s champions Korea DPR.

The remaining 10 sides qualified for Qatar through a traditional group stage. Japan and Bahrain progressed from Group A as winners and runners-up respectively, while Australia and Kuwait finished Group B in that order. Qualification Group C gave the competition UAE and Uzbekistan and Group D Syria and China PR. The final pair, from Group E, was Iran and Jordan.

The 16 teams that made it to Qatar are divided into four groups of four. Group A is made up of Qatar, Kuwait, China PR and Uzbekistan. Group B sees Saudi Arabia, Japan, Jordan and Syria meet while Group C combines World Cup veterans Korea Republic and Australia with India and Bahrain. The final group, Group D, holds Iraq, Korea DPR, UAE and Iran.

Qatar meet Uzbekistan in the first match of the competition on January 7, held at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, also the venue for the final on January 29 and one of the grounds scheduled to see action during World Cup 2022. Currently with a capacity of 50 000, the stadium will be expanded for the World Cup to hold over 68 000 supporters and is one of five stadiums being used to stage the 2011 tournament. The others include three more in Doha, the 25 000 capacity Al-Gharafa Stadium, the Qatar SC Stadium, which holds 20 000 and the 15 000 seat Jassim Bin Hamed Stadium. The only stadium outside the capital to be used in January will be the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, 20 minutes from Doha and with a capacity of 21 000.

In next week’s part two we will look at the teams of Group A and Group B.

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