Fans of international football are in for a New Year treat as the world’s second oldest continental football tournament (behind the Copa America) kicks off in Melbourne on the January 9. The 16th edition of the AFC Asian Cup tournament will be held outside of Asia for the first time as recently inaugurated Asian Football Confederation members Australia, were chosen as this year’s hosts.
A total of 16 teams will take part in the event with a place at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup (to be held in Russia) up for grabs. As well as hosts Australia; holders Japan and the third-placed team from four years ago, South Korea; also gained automatic qualification to the tournament. Palestine and North Korea qualified as respective winners of the 2014 and 2012 AFC Challenge Cup, a now defunct tournament for emerging nations; and the remaining teams arrived at the tournament via the official qualifying route.
The participating nations have been divided into four groups from which the winners and runners-up will progress to the knockout stages.
Group A: Australia, South Korea, Oman, Kuwait
Group B: Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, China PR, North Korea
Group C: Iran, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain
Group D: Japan, Jordan, Iraq, Palestine
The tournament will be staged across five venues, all located in the east of Australia. The first match will be held in Melbourne with the final taking place at Stadium Australia in Sydney.
Melbourne: Rectangular Stadium
Sydney: Stadium Australia
Newcastle: Newcastle stadium
Brisbane: Brisbane stadium
Canberra: Canberra stadium
Past Winners
2011 – Japan
2007 – Iraq
2004 – Japan
2000 – Japan
1996 – Saudi Arabia
1992 – Japan
1988 – Saudi Arabia
1984 – Saudi Arabia
1980 – Kuwait
1976 – Iran
1972 – Iran
1968 – Iran
1964 – Israel
1960 – South Korea
1956 – South Korea
Teams to watch
The Japanese national team have dominated the tournament in recent years, having won four out of the last six tournaments and will start as favourites once again. However, their cause has not been helped by coach Javier Aguirre’s involvement in an ongoing match-fixing case related to his time as boss of Real Zaragoza.
Hosts and 2011 runners-up Australia will be second favourites in what will be their third appearance at the event after joining the AFC in 2006. However, their recent form and a tough group draw could mean that even home advantage will not be enough to carry the Socceroos to victory.
Many people have tipped Iran to do well after their impressive display at the 2014 World Cup under the guidance of Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz. The Iranians qualified comfortably for the Asian Cup as Group A winners ahead of Kuwait, Lebanon and Thailand, and are a good value bet at 7/1.

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