SYDNEY — Three-time champion Saudi Arabia was placed in the same group as 2007 winner Iraq and China in the preliminary draw for the 2015 Asian Cup made in Melbourne Tuesday.
Iraq, which beat the Saudis in the Jakarta final five years ago, headline Group C along with 2004 runner-up China and 2007 co-host Indonesia.
Triple champion Iran will face 1980 winners Kuwait, Thailand and Lebanon in Group B, while Uzbekistan will meet Hong Kong, 2007 quarterfinalist Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates in Group E.
Syria was drawn with Jordan in Group A along with Oman and Singapore, while 2011 host and quarterfinalist Qatar make up Group D with Bahrain, Yemen and Malaysia.
The top two teams from each group and the best third-placed team among all the groups will qualify for the tournament proper to be held in Australia in 2015. The qualifiers begin in February.
Reigning Asian Cup champion Japan, host and runner-up Australia, third-placed South Korea, AFC Challenge Cup 2012 winner North Korea and the champion of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup gain direct berths in the final competition in Australia.
“The preliminary draw has thrown up some great contests and we are sure to see some exciting matches over the next 18 months,” said Asian Football Confederation (AFC) acting president Zhang Jilong. “We’re thrilled that AFC’s newest member, Australia, will be hosting Asia’s flagship national team competition for the first time.”
Frank Lowy, chairman of Football Federation Australia, said Australia was determined to deliver the best Asian Cup yet.
“This will be the largest football competition ever staged in our country,” Lowy told the official draw ceremony. “It will be a feast of international football, and we’re confident that Australians will get behind all the 16 teams, as we have shown for other major events.”
Sydney will host the final, expected to be played on Jan. 31, and also the two semifinals.
Melbourne will host the Asian Cup’s opening match, on the weekend of Jan. 8. It has missed out on the games at the business end of the tournament, partly to avoid clashing with the Australian Open tennis Grand Slam event.
Matches will also be played in Canberra, Brisbane and possibly the Gold Coast.
Group A - Jordan, Syria, Oman, Singapore;
Group B - Iran, Kuwait, Thailand, Lebanon;
Group C - Iraq, China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia;
Group D - Qatar, Bahrain, Yemen, Malaysia;
Group E - Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Hong Kong. — AFP