The road to ultimate hardcourt glory on the Continent begins this weekend when the 2024 AFC Futsal Asian Cup – Thailand Qualifiers get underway.
Eight groups – six of four teams and two comprising three – will be played in a single round-robin format over three matchdays between October 7 and 13 at centralised venues to determine the final cast for the 17th edition of the tournament, set to be staged in Thailand from April 17 to 28, 2024.
This will be the 10th time that Qualifiers – starting from 2006 – are being held for the AFC Futsal Asian Cup™, which was known as the AFC Futsal Championship from 1999 to 2020. Japan are the reigning champions, having won their fourth crown after defeating 12-time winners Iran in 2022; both teams, along with Uzbekistan and Thailand, are the only four sides to have taken part in each of the previous 16 editions.
The first qualifying match takes place in the Mongolian capital city of Ulaanbaatar, where the hosts will face Vietnam in their Group D opener at 2pm at the Buyant Ukhaa Sports Palace. Playing in their fifth qualifying campaign, Mongolia are aiming for a first ever Finals berth while Vietnam, fourth-place finishers in 2016, are looking for a fifth straight involvement and sixth overall.
South Korea will be hoping to be at the Finals for a 15th edition and the 1999 runners-up start their Group D quest against a Nepal side playing their third Qualifiers, hoping to secure first-time qualification. Kick-off is set for 5pm.
Three teams will be in action in Group A at the Bangkok Arena, following Turkmenistan’s withdrawal. As the Thais are granted automatic qualification as hosts of the 2024 edition, all matches featuring them shall be considered as friendly matches and not be taken into account when calculating the Group rankings.
This means that the two teams whose matches are counted for ranking and calculation i.e Hong Kong and China, will play two-legged matches to determine who progresses from Group A. Hong Kong are seeking a return to the tournament after their last involvement in 2007 while China, whose best finish was fourth in 2008 and 2010, are aiming for a 13th involvement in the Finals. They will square off at 5pm on October 9 and 13.
The Thais – two-time runners-up (2008, 2012) – face China at 6pm on October 7 in the first match of the Group.
The only team in AFC Futsal Asian Cup history to have finished in the top three of every edition, Iran embark on their qualifying journey by playing the Maldives in Group C at 4pm at the Bishkek Arena in the Kyrgyz Republic. The latter have appeared twice in the Finals (2004, 2005) and are playing in their fifth Qualifiers.
The Kyrgyz Republic will want to ensure that non-qualification in 2022 was a one-off, having appeared at every Finals before then. Fourth-place finishers in 2006 and 2007, the hosts welcome seven-time Quarterfinalists Lebanon – targeting to reach a 13th consecutive edition – at 7pm.
Iraq – who recorded their best result of fourth in 2018 – will duel with Malaysia to kick off Group G at 3pm at the Samo Sports Complex in Fergana, Uzbekistan, with both teams also aiming to appear at the Finals for a 13th instance.
Four-time runners-up, Uzbekistan will be determined to extend their streak of Finals appearances to 17 as they chase that maiden title. The home side take to the court at 6pm against Cambodia, who are playing in the Qualifiers for a fifth time and aiming to add a second involvement to their 2004 debut.
Myanmar became the 10th ASEAN team to appear at the Finals when they made their bow in 2018 and their quest for a return begins at the Dushanbe Indoor Hall in Tajikistan at 4pm, when they face Group E rivals Palestine. Quarterfinalists in 2001, Palestine are eyeing a fourth involvement and first since 2005.
The second match in the group finds India making their first foray into the Qualifiers, becoming the 40th different team to do so. They will face hosts Tajikistan, who have been to 11 editions of the final tournament and made the last eight twice, in 2007 and 2022.
Having ended an eight-year wait to reclaim the crown, holders Japan’s path to retaining the silverware begins with a Group H clash against Australia at the Taipei University Stadium at 7pm. The Futsalroos, who finished fourth in 2012, are aiming for an eight appearance and first since 2016.
Two days later on October 9, the Australians will go up against hosts and 2003 Quarterfinalists Chinese Taipei, who are looking for an eighth consecutive Finals participation and 13th overall.
The Green Hall in Dammam, Saudi Arabia will be the setting for Group B, where Indonesia is pitted against Macau in the opener at 4pm. The former progressed into the Knockout Stage for the first time in 10 appearances at the 2022 edition and will dream of surpassing that achievement; their opponents are looking to end an 18-year absence with the last of their four previous involvements coming in 2005.
The Saudis’ first qualification came in the previous Finals and they will be keen to make it back to back involvements. The home side take on Afghanistan at 7pm, with the visitors playing their fifth qualification campaign and hoping that third time is the charm – they came tantalisingly close to a historic maiden qualification in 2016 and 2022, missing out due to inferior head-to-head and goal difference records respectively.
In neighbouring Bahrain, Group F will be staged at the Khalifa Sports City Hall in Manama. At 4pm, Kuwait, the 2003 and 2014 fourth-place finishers looking for a 13th involvement at the Finals, take on Brunei Darussalam, whose sole appearance harks back to 2002.
Their sights set on a third straight qualification, 2018 Quarterfinalists Bahrain will welcome the challenge of a Timor-Leste side that have never qualified and are playing in the Qualifiers for a fourth time, with kick-off scheduled for 6.30pm.