Dubai: Australia, who joined the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in 2006, have changed the landscape of the sport in the region, especially when they lifted their first Asian Cup on home soil four years ago in 2015.

Now, the traditional powerhouses of Asian football such as Japan, Iran and South Korea are aiming to regain their glory in the upcoming 2019 AFC Asian Cup, which will start in the UAE on Saturday.

Asian Cup _0921
Asian Cup Groupings Image Credit: Gulf News

The UAE, hosts and hopefuls, kick off the tournament in Abu Dhabi at 8pm after the glittering opening ceremony.

It is not easy for the Socceroos to retain their title after the Asian Cup is to be expanded from 16 to 24 teams for the first time.

Read More

Japan, the most successful country in Asian Cup history, are considered as the favourites to take the throne from Australia.

The four-time champions (1992, 2000, 2004, 2011) had an impressive performance at the FIfa World Cup in Russia, where they lost a thrilling quarterfinal to Belgium 3-2.

Match schedules for Asian Cup group stages_0092
Match schedules for Asian Cup group stages Image Credit: Gulf News

After Keisuke Honda, Makoto Hasebe and Gotoku Sakai announced their retirement, Japan's coach Hajime Moriyasu started to build a fresh-looking team by leaving Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki and Borussia Dortmund playmaker Shinji Kagawa out of his 23-man squad.

Iran, the top-ranked (29) Asian team in Fifa were stopped in the quarterfinals in the past three Asian Cups.

With quality in every position on the field, the Team Melli are looking forward to end their 43-year trophy drought.

South Korea have ensured a top-3 finish in each of the last three Asian Cups. However, they have not claimed the trophy ever since winning the first two Cups in 1956 and 1960.

Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min is to carry South Korea's hope to put an end to their 59-year wait.

And China will be the biggest challenge for South Korea in the group stage and maybe one of the dark horses in the 2019 Asian Cup.

knockout stages
Asia Cup knock-out stages Image Credit: Gulf News