Doha: Sixteen teams from across the Continent will assemble this month to vie for glory at the AFC U23 Asian Cup Qatar 2024, which runs from April 15 to May 3.

Two months on from the conclusion of a spectacular AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023, the West Asian nation will once again be the focus of the Continent’s attention when they become the first two-time hosts of the U23 Asian Cup, having staged the 2016 tournament.

Adding to the stakes, berths for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games are available to the top three finishers, with an additional opportunity for the fourth-placed team on offer via a Playoff against the Confederation of African Football (CAF) representative team Guinea on May 9 in Paris.

Each of the five previous editions have been won by different sides – Iraq, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan – and all are in the hunt for a repeat triumph. Along with that quintet, only two other teams – Australia and Jordan – have been involved in every edition, while Indonesia are the sole debutants this year.

The Qualifiers, held last September, whittled a 41-strong cast down to 15 teams that joined automatically qualified hosts, Qatar, and four groups were produced during the final draw in November.

The first match of the tournament kicks off at 4pm on April 15 at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium between Group A duo Australia and Jordan.

After missing the inaugural edition in 2013, Qatar have reeled off five consecutive qualifications and the home side will welcome Indonesia in the second Group A fixture at 6.30pm at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium. A third-place finish in 2018 is the furthest Qatar have gone and also the last time they advanced past the Group Stage, while the Indonesians will aim to make waves on their bow after becoming the 25th different team in tournament history to qualify.

The thrilling action continues the next day on April 16 when contenders from Groups B and C take to the pitch. At the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium at 4pm, 2016 winners Japan meet China for the first time as they eye a fifth Quarter-final progression, with the latter – who did not participate in 2022 – determined to reach the Knockouts for the first time ever in their fifth Finals.

The second Group B tie sees South Korea do battle with the United Arab Emirates at 6.30pm at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium.

Also at 6.30pm, Group C will get underway when Iraq and Thailand square off at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah.

Saudi Arabia, who became the first team in history to lift the trophy without conceding a single goal in 2022, then embark on their title defence at 9pm at the Khalifa International Stadium against Tajikistan.

Group D swings into play on April 17 at 4pm with Uzbekistan being pitted against Malaysia at the Khalifa International Stadium.

The first round of matches concludes in the evening at 6.30pm with the encounter between Vietnam and Kuwait at the Al Janoub Stadium. The Southeast Asians recorded their best finish in 2018 by placing second and reached the Knockouts for a second time in 2022 where they were Quarter-finalists, while their opponents are hunting a first ever Group Stage win on their third tournament appearance.

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