The road to the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia became clearer on Tuesday after the preliminary draw for the continent's biggest football event was conducted in Melbourne.
Australia as host is exempt from qualifying.
The qualifying phase will be played between February 2013 and March 2014.
Twenty teams were drawn into five round-robin groups of four teams each.
The winners and runners-up from each group will qualify for the Asian Cup finals along with the best third-placed team from among all the groups.
These 11 teams will join automatic qualifiers Australia, Japan, Korea Republic, DPR Korea and the winner of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup.
The 2015 Asian Cup qualifying groups are:
Group A: Jordan, Syria, Oman and Singapore.
Group B: Iran, Kuwait, Thailand and Lebanon.
Group C: Iraq, China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia.
Group D: Qatar, Bahrain, Yemen and Malaysia.
Group E: Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam and Hong Kong
“The preliminary draw has thrown up some great contests, and we are sure to see some exciting matches over the next 18 months,” said 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”.
Football Federation Australia and Local Organising Committee chairman Frank Lowy said Australia was determined to deliver the best Asian Cup yet and promised a festival of football culminating in the final in Sydney at a venue yet to be determined.
“This will be the largest football competition ever staged in our country. 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.” Lowy said.
Lowy also thanked State and Commonwealth Governments for their support of the event.
“We are working with five governments to deliver AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015. Their support and expertise has been invaluable”, he said.
Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu said that Melbourne would be a festival of sport in January 2015.
“Melbourne will once again be the centre of world sport in hosting both AFC Asian Cup 2015 matches and the Australian Open at the same time. The AFC Asian Cup is another jewel in Melbourne’s major events crown.”
Matches for the competition proper will take place in Victoria, NSW, ACT and Queensland, with venues to be confirmed in early 2013. It is expected that tickets will go on sale in early 2014.
AFC Asian Cup Organising Committee Chairman His Royal Highness Tengku Abdullah Ibni Sultan Ahmad Shah praised Australia and the local organising committee for preparations to date.
“The AFC was impressed with the progress update provided by Michael Brown and his team,” he said.
”While there is much work still to be done, we are confident that Australia will deliver a very special competition, one that will leave a lasting legacy for the game both in Australia and across Asia”.
The 10th A-League in 2014-2015 is expected to go into recess for three or four weeks to accommodate the Asian Cup.
Borussia Dortmund's Mustafa Amini is among a 26-man Australia U-20 squad selected for a European training camp this month that will include internationals against Netherlands and Germany.