Asia & Australia (AFC)
Most successful team(s)
Japan (4 titles)
Australia (1st title)
1956; 61 years ago (1956)
Number of teams
24 (finals) 47 (eligible to enter qualification)
The AFC Asian Cup is an international association football tournament run by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). It is the second oldest continental football championship in the world after Copa América. The winning team becomes the champion of Asia and automatically qualifies for the FIFA Confederations Cup.
The Asian Cup was held once every four years from the 1956 edition in Hong Kong until the 2004 tournament in Mainland 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 nations: Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Thereafter, it has been held every four years.
The Asian Cup has generally been dominated by a small number of top teams. Initially successful teams included South Korea and Iran. Since 1984, Japan and Saudi Arabia have been the most successful teams, together winning 7 of the last 9 finals. The other teams which have achieved success are Iraq (2007) and Kuwait (1980), and Israel have also won the tournament although they have since joined UEFA.
Australia joined the Asian confederation in 2007 and hosted the Asian Cup finals in 2015. The 2019 tournament will be expanded from 16 teams to 24 teams, with the qualifying process doubling as part of the qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The tournament will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates. Unlike other confederation tournaments, the Asian Cup has often been rescheduled to another time of year to better suit the climate of the host nation, for example in 2007 it was played in July but the following two tournaments were played in January.
Two years after Asian Football Confederation (AFC) came into being in 1954, the first ever AFC Asian Cup was staged in Hong Kong with seven of the 12 founding members vying for the title to become Asia's best football team. 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. Dominance has swung between the East and West so far. From the superiority of South Korea in the early years of the competition, the tournament became the preserve of Iran who won three consecutive tournaments in 1968, 1972 and 1976 which also hosted the first and last editions.
West Asian countries ruled in the eighties with Kuwait becoming the first country from the Arab region to win the championship in 1980, followed by Saudi Arabia's impressive and consecutive wins in 1984 and 1988.
Japan hold the record for the most victories in the tournament's history with title triumphs in 1992, 2000, 2004 and 2011.
The 2007 edition of the AFC Asian Cup also saw Australia come face-to-face for the first time with the footballing powers of Asia, with the Socceroos signing off with a quarter-final finish; Iraq produced giant-killing performances to overcome the likes of Australia, South Korea and Saudi Arabia to win their first ever Asian Cup that year in what is regarded as one of sport's greatest fairytale victories considering the war situation going on in the country at the time and the adverse conditions the Iraqi players had to deal with.
Having come to grips with Asian football, the Australians went all the way to the final in the 2011 edition later only to suffer heartbreak in the pulsating Doha final when they lost to Japan 1–0 in extra time. The 2015 AFC Asian Cup tournament was hosted by Australia. The host country and South Korea reached the final and Australia won the title after defeating South Korea 2–1 in extra time. United Arab Emirates also finished in third place after defeating 2007 champions Iraq in the third/fourth-place play-off.
The final tournament is being played in two stages: the group stage and the knockout stage. In the group stage each team plays three games in a group of four, with the winners and runners-up from each group advancing to the knockout stage. In the knockout stage the eight teams advance to compete in a single-elimination tournament, beginning with the quarter-finals and ending with the final match of the tournament. A third-place match is also played between the two losing teams of the semi-finals. However, this format is set to change from the 2019 edition onwards to include 24 teams as opposed to 16.
Teams reaching the top four
1 Israel was expelled from the AFC in the early 1970s and eventually became a member of UEFA.
Champions by region
Note: Israel, winner of the 1964 edition, is not included.