Dubai (AFP) – Defending champions Australia were handed an intriguing draw for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup during a gala ceremony at the world’s tallest building — the Burj Khalifa — here on Friday.
The Socceroos, who beat South Korea 2-1 in the final of the 2015 edition as hosts, have been drawn in Group B with Syria, Jordan and Palestine for the event to be held from January 5 to February 1 next year in the United Arab Emirates.
Australia and Jordan have faced each other four times — all in World Cup qualifying — with each side winning two games, while Syria’s gallant but eventually unsuccessful bid to qualify for the upcoming World Cup in Russia has made football fans sit up and take notice.
Japan, who have won the event a record four times, are expected to sail through to the round of 16 from Group F which also includes Uzbekistan, Oman and Turkmenistan.
Former champions Iran and Iraq have been slotted in Group D along with Vietnam and Yemen, while feuding neighbours Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been drawn in Group E with North Korea and Lebanon for company.
The Saudis have won the continental championship three times, but their last success was in 1996 when the event was hosted by the UAE.
The expanded tournament will see 24 teams battle it out for a five million dollar top prize along with a brand new trophy, which was also unveiled at the draw on Friday.
The runners-up in the richest-ever Asian Cup will pocket three million dollars while all 24 teams taking part will be awarded 200,000 dollars for merely qualifying.
The tournament will kick off with a Group A match between hosts UAE and Bahrain at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi on January 5.
Ahead of the draw, the new Asian Cup trophy was unveiled by Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa and former UAE international Zuhair Bakheet.
“Since 1956 we have had the same trophy and in keeping with the new and exciting future of the competition, the AFC decided to commission a new trophy, one that captures the excitement and drama of the tournament ahead,” said Sheikh Salman.