AFC Asian Cup
The AFC Asian Cup is a major international football competition played between teams associated with the Asian Football Confederation. Sixteen teams take part in the finals of the tournament and are selected by a qualification process.
The AFC Asian Cup was an effort by 12 founding nations to give football a platform to grow in the continent. Although the tournament does not have the flair and the glamour associated with its European counterpart, it has nevertheless evolved into an important fixture in the footballing calendar every four years.
The initiation and development of national football leagues in several member countries mainly in Japan, China and the Middle East has given the Asian Cup just the impetus it needs in terms of fan following.
Football fans do not have to look enviously at the Brazilian stars these days simply because home grown stars are beginning to dominate the pages in Asian countries as well. It is in this endeavor to spread the word that the Asian Cup has assumed significance on the continent.
The decision to hold a regional competition in order to develop football in Asia was taken when the Asian Football Confederation was formed in Manila in 1954. The idea was to have a championship that would allow Asian member nations to compete at a national level and also provide players with an international platform to showcase their talent.
After the decision was taken in 1954, the 12 founding members drew up a blueprint around which the Asian Cup could be built. It was decided to hold the maiden tournament 24 months after the meeting endorsed the idea.
The AFC Asian Cup was first held in 1956 with Hong Kong as the host. The first four versions of the tournament, from 1956 to 1968, were held in league format. Only four teams were selected to play in the finals of the tournament after a qualifying round.
This was somewhat unusual, but it worked at that time because not many nations were able to send full teams to compete in the championship.
South Korea and Iran dominated the early stages of the tournament, winning 5 of the six tournaments between 1956 and 1976. South Korea won the first Asian Cup played in Hong Kong in 1956 and successfully defended its title at home in 1960.
Hosts Israel won the 1964 tournament and the next three tournaments were won by Iran, of which the country hosted two editions, in 1968 and 1976 while the 1972 edition was played in Thailand. The later stages of the tournament have been dominated by Saudi Arabia and Japan, with both the countries winning the tournament three times each.
Currently Japan are the defending champions having defeated China 3-1 in last edition’s finals held in 2004.
The qualification process for a place in the Asian Cup finals is a long drawn out affair with over 40 teams fighting it out against each other for the honor. As with other major international tournaments, the host nations are automatically qualified to take part in the finals.
Till the 2004 edition, the defending champions were also given an automatic qualification into the finals, but a change of rules by the AFC meant that last edition's winners, Japan, had to undergo the qualification campaign for the 2007 edition.
Usually all the 45 teams associated with the AFC enter to take part in he qualifying round. There are two rounds in the qualifying campaign, after which 16 teams are selected to take part in the tournament. A Preliminary Round is held, in which the team that tops its group table gain entry into the Qualifying round of the tournament.
The teams gaining entry into the qualifying round are once again divided into groups, and the top two teams in each group are qualified to take part in the Asian Cup finals. For the 2007 edition, just 29 teams entered to take part in the qualification round. The number of teams accredited to the AFC was boosted by one after Australia decided to join the confederation.
The entry of Australia is a definite boost because it also allows Asian countries to experience rivalry of a different nature. Not only is the pace of football different across the continent, but also tactics vary. With Australia deciding to join the AFC the Asian Cups in future will have a truly global nature.
The number of teams was culled to 24 after the preliminary round. The AFC decided to seed the teams depending on their FIFA World Rankings as on October 2006, instead of the previous practice of seeding them on their performance in the previous edition of the tournament. This step was taken to avoid placing stronger teams in a single group.
One issue with the AFC was that the tournament was held in the same years as the Summer Olympics and the UEFA Euro Championships. This meant the sporting calendar was unusually crowded dividing spectator interest. Therefore it was decided to hold the tournament in odd years when there are no other events to clash with it.
AFC Asian Cup 2007
Pot 1 of the draw comprised of the four hosts of the tournament, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. The 12 teams from the qualifying round were then distributed into the remaining three pots depending on their rankings.
Japan is considered favorites to once again successfully defend its title and win the tournament for the third time in a row. However the Japanese might face tough competition from South Korea, Iran and Australia. If Japan manages to win the title, then it will be the most successful team to have played in the Asian Cup, winning the tournament four times. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Japan have won the title three times each.
The 2007 Asian Cup will kick off on July 7 with the match between co-hosts Thailand and Iraq at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok. The final will be played at the Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia on July 29 while the third place playoff will be played at the Jakabaring Stadium in Palembang, Indonesia. You can watch live Asia Cup football online with Free Football TV.
Tags: AFC Asian Cup, Asian Cup, Asian Football Confederation, 2007 Asian Cup, live Asia Cup