AFC Asian Cup 2019: One month countdown begins

Sajith B Warrier

Bengaluru, December 5: With exactly one month to go for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup kick off, the excitement is building up among the fans and aficionados alike.

The 2019 AFC Asian Cup to be held at eight venues in the UAE from January 5 to February 1 will have many firsts to its credit.

For the first time since its inception in 1956, the tournament will have 24 teams in the fray. Video Assistant Referees (VAR) technology will also make its debut in the quadrennial extravaganza.

AFC President Salman bin Ibhrahim Al Khalifa justified the rationale behind the expansion of Asia's most prestigious tournament from 16 to 24 teams.

"The expansion of the AFC Asian Cup was a strategic decision which benefitted not only the teams and players, but in all areas of football development, including enhancing the opportunities for our referees to shine on the biggest stages," Al Khalifa told AFC website as the one-month countdown begins.

India are returning to the tournament after an eight-year gap. Talismanic striker Sunil Chhetri is one of the few survivors of the Indian team that last played in the AFC Asian Cup -- the 2011 edition held in Qatar -- where the men in blue crashed out in group stage.

At the 2019 edition, India are drawn along with hosts UAE, familiar foes Bahrain and Thailand and Chhetri and the team will be eyeing a better show.

India begin their campaign against Thailand on January 6 at the Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

With just one month for the kick off, the AFC announced a record 60 match officials - comprising 30 referees and assistant referees each - to officiate in the tournament for continental supremacy.

Australia are the defending champions of the tournament. The Socceroos had defeated South Korea 2-1 in the 2015 edition final held in front of a record 85,000 plus spectators at Sydney's Olympic Stadium.

Japan is the most successful team in the competition history, having won the title four times -- 1992, 2000, 2004, 2011.

India's best performance has been the runner-up finish in the 1964 edition held in Israel, the year in which the tournament was held in a round-robin format.

Also Read:

Emery's Arsenal now one of Premier League's strongest – Rashford

India to play friendly against Oman on December 27

India goes down fighting to Jordan in international friendly