Defending champions Australia will renew their rivalry with Syria at next year’s Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates after the pair were drawn to face each in the group phase of the continental championship.
The Socceroos brought Syria’s remarkable run in qualifying for the World Cup to an end last September in a thrilling two-legged encounter before beating Honduras to progress to the finals in Russia.
But the Syrians, who have overcome a civil war that has ravaged the nation to become one of Asian football’s leading nations, have now been presented with the opportunity to gain some payback against Australia.
“Syria lost to Australia in a playoff and they now have a chance to get a little bit of revenge against us and it’s good to try and get that so soon after that memorable night we had in Sydney,” said Australia’s assistant coach Ante Milicic after the draw. “We’ll be looking forward to it.
“This is a challenge that we won’t shy away from. We’re proud that we’re Asian champions, it’s a very big honour for us to be the best team in Asia. We’re going to look to now do well away from Australia, away from home with different tests and challenges but it’s one we’re definitely looking forward to and will be well prepared for.”
Palestine and Jordan complete Group B of the tournament which sees hosts the United Arab Emirates kick off proceedings on Jan. 5 when they take on Bahrain before meeting Thailand and India in Group A.
Four-time champions Japan feature in Group F alongside Uzbekistan, Oman and Turkmenistan while Iran and Iraq will meet in Group D alongside Vietnam and Yemen.
Meanwhile, China’s quest for a first-ever Asian Cup title will see them take on South Korea, Kyrgyzstan and tournament debutantes the Philippines in Group C.
And regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar – who are currently locked in a bitter diplomatic dispute – have been drawn together in Group E with Lebanon and North Korea in the newly expanded tournament, which features 24 teams for the first time.
“We know this is going to be a very tough one but before this we have to play Saudi Arabia we have to play the other two games,” said Qatar coach Felix Sanchez.
“We’re not going to focus only on one team, we’re going to do everything and now after the draw we know what we are going to face, so let’s try to prepare properly and try to compete well and to perform and to try to get good results.”
Group A: United Arab Emirates, Thailand, India, Bahrain
Group B: Australia, Syria, Palestine, Jordan
Group C: South Korea, China, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines
Group D: Iran, Iraq, Vietnam, Yemen
Group E: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lebanon, North Korea
Group F: Japan, Uzbekistan, Oman, Turkmenistan