AFC Asian Cup
Organising bodyAFC
Founded1956; 68 years ago (1956)
RegionAsia and Oceania (Australia)
Number of teams24 (finals)
47 (eligible to enter qualification)
Current champions Qatar (2nd title)
Most successful team(s) Japan (4 titles)
Websitethe-afc.com

The AFC Asian Cup is the primary association football competition contested by the senior men's national teams of the members of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), determining the continental champion of Asia. It is the second oldest continental football championship in the world after Copa América. The winning team becomes the champion of Asia and until 2015 qualified for the FIFA Confederations Cup.[1]

The Asian Cup was held once every four years from the 1956 AFC Asian Cup in Hong Kong until the 2004 tournament in China. However, since the Summer Olympic Games and the European Football Championship were also scheduled in the same year as the Asian Cup, the AFC decided to move their championship to a less crowded cycle. After 2004, the tournament was next held in 2007, when it was co-hosted by four countries in Southeast Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Thereafter, it has again been held every four years.

The Asian Cup has generally been dominated by a small number of top teams. Prominently successful teams include Japan (four times), Iran, Saudi Arabia (three times each), South Korea and Qatar (twice each). The other teams which have achieved success are Australia (2015), Iraq (2007) and Kuwait (1980). Israel won in 1964 but was later expelled and has since joined UEFA.

Australia joined the Asian confederation in 2007 and hosted the Asian Cup finals in 2015, winning the competition in the final against South Korea. The 2019 tournament was expanded from 16 teams to 24 teams, with the qualifying process doubling as part of the qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.[2][3]

History

Beginning

A pan-Asian competition was first proposed after the end of World War II, but it was not implemented until the 1950s. Two years after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) came into being in 1954, the first ever AFC Asian Cup was staged in Hong Kong with seven of the twelve founding members taking part, making the tournament the second oldest continental competition in the world. The qualifying process involved the hosts plus the winners of the various zones (Central, Eastern and Western). It was only a four-team tournament, a format that also existed for 1960 and 1964. Each sub-confederation already hosts their own biennial championship, each with varying degrees of interest.[citation needed]

South Korea demonstrated its superiority in the early years of the competition as the country won the championship in both 1956 and 1960; this remains as South Korea's best achievements in the tournament.[4]

West Asian domination (1964–1988)

After Hong Kong and South Korea hosted the two first editions, Israel was chosen as host of the 1964 AFC Asian Cup. Using the same format of the two previous editions, this tournament only had four teams and played in one single group to determine the champions. Israel eventually topped the tournament ahead of India with three wins.[5] The format was updated to five teams in 1968 before it was expanded to six teams in 1972 and 1976.

The tournament became the preserve of Iran who won three consecutive tournaments in 1968, 1972 and 1976, with Iran hosting the former and the latter. Iran remains as the only national team in Asia to have won three consecutive Asian Cups. The 1972 final was notable as it was the first Asian Cup to use the group stage-knockout phase format, which was followed in the subsequent tournaments with some alternation.[6] Israel was expelled from the AFC in 1972 due to the Arab–Israeli conflict.[7]

From 1980 to 1988, the number of teams taking part expanded to ten, but West Asian countries continued their domination in the 1980s with Kuwait becoming the first Arab country to win the championship in 1980 held at home soil, beating South Korea 3–0 in the final.[8] Saudi Arabia, after an initial poor start, began to emerge as the country qualified, then won two consecutive Asian trophies in 1984 and 1988, overcoming both China and South Korea. Both tournaments were Saudi Arabia's debuts in any major competitions.[9]

Japan's rise and modernization of Asian Cup (1992–2011)

Until the 1990s, Japan was mostly a small name in Asian football, and the country only qualified for the 1988 edition, the first time Japan took part in a continental football tournament. However, as Japan started to make a concrete move inroad to professional football, the country's fortunes increased. Japan hosted the 1992 AFC Asian Cup, which was reduced to eight teams and two groups, where it emerged victorious after beating Saudi Arabia, then-defending champions, 1–0, to win the country's first major international honour.[10][11]

The 1996 AFC Asian Cup saw the tournament expand to twelve teams in its process of professionalization. Held by the United Arab Emirates, the hosts breached into the final for the first time ever but were unable to win the trophy after losing to Saudi Arabia, who made it into the country's fourth consecutive Asian finals, on penalties. It was Saudi Arabia's third Asian title.[10][12][13]

The 2000 AFC Asian Cup saw Lebanon take part in its first Asian tournament, and it was Saudi Arabia who again reached the final, but this time, Japan triumphed over Saudi Arabia 1–0 in a final filled with a majority of Saudi supporters.[14] Japan would go on to retain their Asian trophy four years later, albeit in a more struggling style and a very heated, politically charged final toward hosts China.[15] The 2004 edition was notable as it expanded to 16 teams, and marked Saudi Arabia's absence from an Asian Cup final for the first time.

The 2007 AFC Asian Cup was the debut of Australia, which had abandoned the Oceania Football Confederation in 2006 (coincidentally the first team to qualify for the tournament), as well as being the first football competition in the world to be hosted by more than two nations, with four countries in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia) hosting.[16][17] In this tournament, Iraq was crowned as Asian champions despite the ravaging American invasion, overpowering the likes of Australia, South Korea and Saudi Arabia in the process.[18]

Australia (which joined the AFC in 2006), after its poor debut in 2007, rebounded to reach the final in 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar, but lost to Japan after extra-time; the win for Japan meant it became the most decorated team in Asian football with four titles.[19] Still, the tournament was notable as the first Asian Cup to use the jersey numbers' order from 1 to 23, previously not practised in prior competitions.

Expansion of the Asian Cup (2015–present)

Following Australia's successes in the 2011 Asian Cup, the AFC approved the country to host the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. At the tournament, Australia managed to clamp down every opponent with only one loss, against eventual finalist South Korea, whom Australia would get a 2–1 final revenge after extra-time; the win officially sealed Southeast Asia's first Asian title as Australia joined the AFF in 2013.[20] AFC Asian Cup began on 12th January 2024 and ended on 10th February 2024.[21]

At the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, video assistant referees were used in the tournament for the first time,[22] and the tournament expanded to 24 teams.[23] In addition, a fourth substitution was allowed during extra time.[24] The tournament, hosted by the United Arab Emirates for the second time, witnessed the rise of Qatar, who conquered its first ever Asian title after beating Japan in the final 3–1.[25] The tournament was marred by the Qatar diplomatic crisis, due to the UAE's entry ban on Qatari supporters, as well as shoe-throwing in the two teams' semi-final clash.[26]

Format

Final tournament

Since 1972, the final tournament has been played in two stages: the group stage and the knockout stage. Since 2019, each team plays three games in a group of four, with the winners and runners-up from each group advancing to the knockout stage along with four best third-placed teams. In the knockout stage, the sixteen teams compete in a single-elimination tournament, beginning with the round of 16 and ending with the final match of the tournament.

# Year Host Teams Matches Round 1 Final stages
1 1956  Hong Kong 4 6 1 group: 6–10 matches (depending on the number of teams)
2 1960  South Korea
3 1964  Israel
4 1968  Iran 5 10
5 1972  Thailand 6 13 3 group allocation matches followed by 2 groups of 3 teams (6 matches): 9 matches knockout of 4 teams (round 1 group winners and runners-up): 4 matches
6 1976  Iran 10 2 group of 3 teams: 6 matches
7 1980  Kuwait 10 24 2 group of 5 teams: 20 matches
8 1984  Singapore
9 1988  Qatar
10 1992  Japan 8 16 2 group of 4 teams: 12 matches
11 1996  United Arab Emirates 12 26 3 groups of 4 teams: 18 matches knockout of 8 teams (round 1 group winners and runners-up, plus 2 best 3rd-placed teams): 8 matches
12 2000  Lebanon
13 2004  China 16 32 4 groups of 4 teams: 24 matches knockout of 8 teams (round 1 group winners and runners-up): 8 matches
14 2007  Indonesia
 Malaysia
 Thailand
 Vietnam
15 2011  Qatar
16 2015  Australia
17 2019  United Arab Emirates 24 51 6 groups of 4 teams: 36 matches knockout of 16 teams (round 1 group winners and runners-up, plus 4 best 3rd-placed teams):
15 matches (no third-place match)
18 2023  Qatar
19 2027  Saudi Arabia
20 2031 To be determined
21 2035 To be determined

Trophy

Trophy history
The original trophy launched in 1956, in use until 2015
The trophy used since 2019

There have been two Asian Cup trophies; the first one used between 1956 and 2015, and the second one in use since 2019.

The first trophy came in the form of a bowl with circular base. It was 42 centimeters tall and weighed 15 kilograms.[27] Until the 2000 tournament, the black base contained plaques engraved with names of every winning country, as well as the edition won.[28][29] The trophy was redesigned, adding more silver and reducing the black base to just a thin layer down. This base was plaque-free and the winning countries' names were engraved around the base.[30]

During the draw for the 2019 group stage on 4 May 2018 at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, an all-new trophy made by Thomas Lyte was unveiled. It is 78 centimeters tall, 42 centimeters wide, and weighs 15 kilograms of silver.[31] The trophy is modeled after the lotus flower, a symbolically important aquatic Asian plant. The five petals of the lotus symbolize the five sub-confederations under the AFC.[32] The winning countries' names are engraved around the trophy base, which is separable from the trophy's main body. This trophy has a handle on each side, unlike its predecessor.

Results

See also: List of AFC Asian Cup finals

Ed. Year Hosts Final Third place playoff or losing semi-finalists Number of teams
Champions Score Runners-up Third place Score Fourth place
1 1956  Hong Kong
South Korea
round-robin
Israel

Hong Kong
round-robin
South Vietnam
4
2 1960  South Korea
South Korea
round-robin
Israel

Republic of China
round-robin
South Vietnam
4
3 1964  Israel
Israel
round-robin
India

South Korea
round-robin
Hong Kong
4
4 1968  Iran
Iran
round-robin
Burma

Israel
round-robin
Republic of China
5
5 1972  Thailand
Iran
2–1 (a.e.t.)
South Korea

Thailand
2–2 (a.e.t.)
(5–3 p)

Khmer Republic
6
6 1976  Iran
Iran
1–0
Kuwait

China
1–0
Iraq
6
7 1980  Kuwait
Kuwait
3–0
South Korea

Iran
3–0
North Korea
10
8 1984  Singapore
Saudi Arabia
2–0
China

Kuwait
1–1 (a.e.t.)
(5–3 p)

Iran
10
9 1988  Qatar
Saudi Arabia
0–0 (a.e.t.)
(4–3 p)

South Korea

Iran
0–0 (a.e.t.)
(3–0 p)

China
10
10 1992  Japan
Japan
1–0
Saudi Arabia

China
1–1 (a.e.t.)
(4–3 p)

United Arab Emirates
8
11 1996  UAE
Saudi Arabia
0–0 (a.e.t.)
(4–2 p)

United Arab Emirates

Iran
1–1 (a.e.t.)
(3–2 p)

Kuwait
12
12 2000  Lebanon
Japan
1–0
Saudi Arabia

South Korea
1–0
China
12
13 2004  China
Japan
3–1
China

Iran
4–2
Bahrain
16
14 2007
Iraq
1–0
Saudi Arabia

South Korea
0–0 (a.e.t.)
(6–5 p)

Japan
16
15 2011  Qatar
Japan
1–0 (a.e.t.)
Australia

South Korea
3–2
Uzbekistan
16
16 2015  Australia
Australia
2–1 (a.e.t.)
South Korea

United Arab Emirates
3–2
Iraq
16
17 2019  UAE
Qatar
3–1
Japan
 Iran and  United Arab Emirates 24
18 2023  Qatar
Qatar
3–1
Jordan

Iran
AFC ranking criteria[a]
South Korea
24
19 2027  Saudi Arabia 24

Summary

See also: Asian Cup comprehensive team results by tournament

Bold text denotes team was host country.

Team Champions Runners-up
 Japan 4 (1992, 2000, 2004, 2011) 1 (2019)
 Saudi Arabia 3 (1984, 1988, 1996) 3 (1992, 2000, 2007)
 Iran 3 (1968, 1972, 1976)
 South Korea 2 (1956, 1960) 4 (1972, 1980, 1988, 2015)
 Qatar 2 (2019, 2023)
 Israel[b] 1 (1964) 2 (1956, 1960)
 Kuwait 1 (1980) 1 (1976)
 Australia 1 (2015) 1 (2011)
 Iraq 1 (2007)
 China 2 (1984, 2004)
 India 1 (1964)
 Myanmar[c] 1 (1968)
 United Arab Emirates 1 (1996)
 Jordan 1 (2023)

AFC Asian Cup Results

Records and statistics

Main article: AFC Asian Cup records and statistics

Further information: AFC Asian Cup qualifiers

Awards

Main article: AFC Asian Cup awards

There are currently five post-tournament awards:

Controversies

Despite being the second oldest continental football tournament, the AFC Asian Cup has suffered numerous criticisms.[34][35][36] Criticisms over the inability of the AFC Asian Cup to attract large attendances, political interference, high costs of traveling between AFC member states and different cultures were highlighted over the Asian Cup.

Political interference

The AFC Asian Cup is marked with numerous instances of political interference. One of these was the case of Israel, as the team used to be a member of the AFC but following the Yom Kippur War and increasing hostility from the Arab AFC members, Israel was expelled from the AFC in 1974 and had to compete in the OFC, until being granted UEFA membership in 1990.[37] Meanwhile, similar cases also exist in other AFC tournaments like the one between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Following the 2016 attack on the Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran, Saudi Arabia had refused to play against Iran and even threatened to withdraw, afterwards blowing over onto international level.[38] Tensions between the two Koreas during qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup had led North Korea to withdraw from hosting the South Korean team and refusing to display the South Korean flag and play their national anthem. As a result, North Korea's home matches were moved to Shanghai.[39]

Low attendances

Low crowds have also been another problem for the AFC Asian Cup. At the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, there had been concerns over low record of crowds due to little football interests and high costs of traveling between Asian nations leading to then-Australia coach Holger Osieck claiming that the Qatar Armed Forces were used to fill up the stadiums simply for aesthetics, while Australia international Brett Holman commented, "Worldwide it's not recognized as a good tournament".[36]

In 2010, Qatar was chosen as the host country for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The country is set to become the first in the Middle East to host the world's biggest sporting event, triumphing over strong competition from the United States and Australia. Approximately 5 billion people were involved in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, as they followed tournament content through various platforms and devices in the media universe.[40]

On 10 Feb 2024, the AFC announced that the tournament in Qatar had surpassed the previous total attendance record of 1.04 million set during the 2004 tournament in China, with a new record of 1.06 million. This achievement was reached prior to the quarter-final stage.[41][42]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ No third-place playoff played, losing semi-finalists are ranked by the AFC based on goal difference in the semi-finals.[33]
  2. ^ Israel was expelled from the AFC in 1974 and currently compete in the UEFA.
  3. ^  Burma until 1989.

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