x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

UAE given comfortable qualifying draw for 2015 Asian Cup

Mahdi Ali's side will face Uzbekistan, Vietnman and Hong Kong in their bid to reach the 2015 finals in Australia, while former champions Iraq and Saudi Arabia have been paired together.

UAE national team coach Mahdi Ali
UAE national team coach Mahdi Ali

New UAE national coach Mahdi Ali's hopes of guiding the team to the 2015 Asian Cup have been handed a boost after his side were drawn against Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Hong Kong in qualifying.

Former champions Iraq and Saudi Arabia have been drawn together in the same group for the games, which take place in Australia in January 2015.

The UAE won their qualifying group for the 2011 competition, only to finish bottom in the group stage at the Finals in Qatar last year.

The draw pairs them against Uzbekistan, who lose to South Korea 3-2 in the third-place playoff. Neither Vietnam nor Hong Kong qualified for the 2011 competition.

Hosts Australia and 2011 winners Japan have already qualified for the tournament, along with North and South Korea.

Iraq, the 2007 champions, who take on Australia in a crucial World Cup qualifier next week, have been placed in Group C, arguably the toughest of the five, alongside three-time champions Saudi Arabia, China and Malaysia.

Iran, who are the highest-ranked team in the tournament at 58th in the world, were placed in Group B with Kuwait, Thailand and Lebanon.

Group A consists of Jordan, Syria, Oman and Singapore, while 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar have been drawn in Group D with Bahrain, Yemen and Malaysia.

The top two nations from each group will qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup with the best third-placed team from all groups also earning a ticket to Australia.  Qualifying matches start in February 2013.

Football Federation Chairman Frank Lowy said Australia was determined to deliver the best Asian Cup yet.

"This will be the largest football competition ever staged in our country," Lowy said.

"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.