All you need to know about the AFC Asian Cup 2023

Teams, venues, tournament format, favourites and everything else you need to know about the AFC Asian Cup 2023 in Qatar.

Aerial view of Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar
The Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor will host four matches during the AFC Asian Cup 2023 [File: Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

One year on from a historic FIFA World Cup 2022, Qatar is set to defend its crown as the Asian football champion when it hosts the continent’s best teams at the AFC Asian Cup 2023.

The 24-team tournament gets under way on January 12 at the iconic Lusail Stadium, where Lionel Messi’s Argentina lifted their third World Cup crown in front of nearly 89,000 fans.

Here’s what you need to know about the continental tournament:

Who are the hosts?

China was chosen as the host for the tournament, which was originally scheduled to be played in 10 cities in mostly newly built stadiums in June and July of 2023. However, the country relinquished its hosting rights following the COVID-19 pandemic and due to its zero-COVID policy.

In October 2022, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced Qatar as the new host country, on the back of its preparedness to host the World Cup. The Middle Eastern nation has previously staged the Asian Cup in 1988 and 2011.

What are the key dates?

The tournament kicks off on Friday, January 11 at 7pm (16:00 GMT) at the Lusail Stadium, where hosts Qatar will take on regional rivals Lebanon in the first match of group A.

The group stage will run until Thursday, January 25, with Kyrgyzstan vs Oman and Saudi Arabia vs Thailand as the last fixtures.

The round of 16 will commence after a two-day gap on Sunday, January 28 and run until January 31. The quarterfinals will be played on February 1 and 2, the semifinals on February 6 and 7 and, just like the World Cup, the tournament will conclude with the final in Lusail – on Saturday, February 11 at 6pm (15:00 GMT).

Which teams have qualified for the Asian Cup?

Having gone through a yearlong qualification phase, 23 teams made the cut, while China was barred from the process on the basis of its original hosting rights. Four of the 24 teams from the last edition failed to qualify for the 2023 tournament.

Tajikistan were the surprise package of the qualification phase and have earned a spot in the final 24 as the only debutants. Meanwhile, Hong Kong make a return after an absence of over five decades and the increasingly confident South Asian giant India will make its second consecutive appearance.

Group A: Qatar, China, Tajikistan, Lebanon
Group B: Australia, Uzbekistan, Syria, India
Group C: Iran, UAE, Palestine, Hong Kong
Group D: Japan, Indonesia, Iraq, Vietnam
Group E: South Korea, Malaysia, Jordan, Bahrain
Group F: Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman

How does the group stage work?

The top two teams in each group and the four best-ranked third-placed teams will advance to the round of 16.

The bottom teams and the two worst-ranked third-placed teams in each group will be eliminated from the tournament.

What are the venues?

Hot on the heels of hosting the world’s biggest sporting event, Qatar will have another chance to make use of its FIFA World Cup venues. One the nine tournament venues, seven played host to the World Cup, including Lusail Stadium, Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Al Bayt Stadium, Al Janoub Stadium, Education City Stadium, Khalifa International Stadium and Al Thumama Stadium.

The 10,000-capacity Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium, which hosts local football team Al Duhail FC, will host six group matches and a round-of-16 match. The Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium is the other non-World Cup venue slated to host Asian Cup matches. Home of Qatar’s most successful football club, Al Sadd, the stadium has a capacity of 15,000 and will host six group matches, as well as a round-of-16 match.

Argentina v France, FIFA World Cup 2022 Final, December 18, Lusail Stadium [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]
The iconic Lusail Stadium, which hosted the Argentina vs France FIFA World Cup 2022 final will host the opening match and the final of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 [File: Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Who are the past winners?

Japan: 1992, 2000, 2004, 2011
Saudi Arabia: 1984, 1988, 1986
Iran: 1968, 1972, 1976
South Korea: 1956, 1960
Kuwait: 1980
Australia: 2015
Israel: 1964
Iraq: 2007
Qatar: 2019

Who are the favourites?

A strong presence of teams from the Asia Pacific means Australia, Japan and South Korea will be amongst the top contenders to lift the crown.

However, the Middle East boasts its own favourites in regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia and defending champions Qatar.

Source: Al Jazeera