It has been only four days since the 2019 AFC Asian Cup has begun and it already the best ever Asian cup in the competition’s history. It may lack the fanfare or fancy crowds that the previous edition in Australia had but this tournament will be have a major impact in football of many smaller countries.
When AFC First announced that the tournament would be expanded to 24 teams they received a lot of criticism from the media who accused AFC of copying everything that UEFA who had expanded 2016 Euros to 24 teams and cited the difference in quality between the top 10 Asian teams and the rest. People expected a lot of one sided results.
A lot of Criticism has already been answered in the first few days, Palestine holding Syria to a draw or Kyrgyzstan who could have defeated China if not for a couple of errors from their keeper or Philippines losing to South Korea only 1-0. India’s result against Thailand has already been receiving wider attention throughout the country. While Vietnam put an amazing show against Iraq losing 3-2 due to a free-kick from Ali Adnan in 90th minute after leading for most of the game.
The Asian Cup has always been an affair were the stronger Asian countries face each other to determine who is the best while the smaller countries would always find their way out of the qualifiers at early stages. The AFC Challenge Cup which was held to allow the minnows qualify for the tournament was a pretty poor choice.
AFC made a pretty good choice of combining the World Cup and Asian Cup qualification together. The qualification process started during 2015 and lasted for almost 3 years thus making countries remain active during international breaks which they most often didn’t.
Football is not a profitable sport in in most of Asian countries, the lack of sponsors and interest from media and fans prevent countries a lot of countries from playing international friendlies during the FIFA windows as many consider them meaningless. Having a qualification format which makes teams play every international break was very wise move.
The 2019 AFC Asian Cup has three teams Philippines, Kyrgyzstan and Yemen playing their first ever tournament while likes of Lebanon, Turkmenistan and Palestine play their second. An expanded AFC Asian Cup cup provides such countries its players and fans to feel what it is like to play in a major tournament.
An extended Asian Cup gives the 47 member countries in Asia a chance to dream, to make it to a major tournament to play alongside the top players in Asia.