The quest to reach the pinnacle in Asian beach soccer begins in a week’s time when the 2023 AFC Beach Soccer Asian Cup in Thailand kicks off on Thursday, March 16, 2023.
The showpiece returns under its new brand for a 10th edition and will also serve as the qualifiers for the 2023 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup – UAE, which is scheduled to be played in November.
Four years after hosting the previous edition in 2019, the city of Pattaya takes centre-stage again for the 16 teams, who will aim to be the last one standing after 11 days at the picturesque Jomtien Beach Arena on March 26.
Defending champions Japan will take some stopping in their bid for a record-extending fourth title in their 10th appearance – joint-most with China and the Iran.
Iran, targeting a third crown to add to their triumphs in 2013 and 2017, will open the much-anticipated tournament with a Group B clash against Malaysia on March 16 at 3.30pm. Buoyed by reaching the Knockout Stage for the first time in 2019, the Malaysians will be keen to repeat the feat.
The other Group B encounter on the same day at 6.30pm will see the United Arab Emirates (UAE) take on Uzbekistan. Finalists in the last two editions, the UAE will aim to overcome the final hurdle this time, while their opponents are involved for the first time since 2015.
Sandwiched between the Group B matches is the Group A showdown between 2006 champions Bahrain and Afghanistan at 5pm. Thereafter, hosts Thailand take to the stage at 8.30pm to open their Group A campaign against Saudi Arabia, whose last appearance came in 2013.
The following day begins with Lebanon taking on China in Group C at 3.30pm, before Palestine face Kuwait in Group D at 5pm. Indonesia, making their second appearance after their debut in 2011 – the longest hiatus of any team – have the formidable task of going up against Japan in their Group C contest at 6.30pm.
Oman, who won the title in 2011, then round off the day with their Group D fixture against the Kyrgyz Republic.
Japan, who are the only Asian team to qualify for every edition of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup besides achieving a historic runners-up finish in 2021, will be determined to make it 12 in a row by finishing in the top three, which will help secure a berth at this year’s global event.
With the UAE automatically qualifying for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup as the hosts, the fourth-placed team in Pattaya will also make it to the sandy beaches of Dubai if the West Asians finish in the top three.
With every side vying for their day in the sun, the 2023 AFC Beach Soccer Asian Cup in Thailand promises to be an enthralling tournament for players and fans alike.