MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippine Azkals’ historic march to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup just got tougher.
An arduous journey awaits the national men’s football team after it landed in Group C together with South Korea, China, and Kyrgyzstan in its first stint in the continental tournament slated January 5 to February 1 in the United Arab Emirates next year.
The draw held on Friday, May 4, at the Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa in Dubai also saw defending champion Australia leading Group B that includes Syria, Palestine, and Jordan.
Top-ranked Iran banners Group D teams Iraq, Vietnam, and Yemen.
Saudi Arabia heads the Group E cast of Qatar, Lebanon, and Korea, while powerhouse Japan joins Uzbekistan, Oman, and Turkmenistan in Group F.
Host United Arab Emirates, which will kick off the tournament against Bahrain, will also mix it up with Thailand and India in Group A.
The top two teams in each group, along with the 4 best 3rd placers, will advance to the knockout stage.
A total prize money of US$50 million will be given away, including $5 million for the champion of the tournament featuring 24 teams.
Last March, the Azkals pulled off the biggest achievement yet in local football by beating Tajikistan, 2-1, in the qualifiers and booking the country’s first ever slot in the quadrennial meet.
“The Asian Cup has a rich history and to be one of the 24 teams competing is already an honor for Philippine Football,” Philippine Football Federation (PFF) president Mariano Araneta Jr. said in a statement posted on the association’s official website.
“We look forward to the Philippine Men’s National Team as they make history by competing in the Asian Cup. We also hope the Filipino fans in the United Arab Emirates will flock to the stadium to support the team in their matches.” – Rappler.com
More commonly known as “Bee”, Beatrice is a multimedia sports reporter for Rappler, who covers Phillippine sports governance, national teams, football and the UAAP. Stay tuned for her news and features on Philippine sports and videos like the Rappler Athlete’s Corner and Rappler Sports Timeout.