(MENAFN - The Peninsula) The Peninsula
KUALA LUMPUR: The journey to the AFC U23 Championship - to be held in Thailand in 2020 - will begin in March next year when the qualifiers for the prestigious event kick off around the Asian continent.
The official draw ceremony for the qualifying stages was held at the AFC House in the Malaysian capital yesterday.
Qatar will host Group A as they aim to make their third appearance in the AFC U23 Championship Finals. They will face challengers Oman, Nepal and Afghanistan.
The Qualifiers divided the 44 participating teams into two zones of West (West + South + Central) with 24 teams, and East (East + Asean) with 20 teams.
Host of Group B, Bahrain, will make their fourth attempt in qualifying to the Finals, as they go up against Palestine, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Islamic Republic of Iran, the host nation for Group C, will prove their mettle against inaugural champions Iraq, Turkmenistan and Yemen.
2013 runners-up Saudi Arabia will be aiming to better their previous best result after failing to progress past the group stage in January. They host United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Maldives in Group D.
Kuwait were among the first teams to participate in the first-ever AFC U23 Championship in 2013, and will bid to reach the Finals again when they face opponents Jordan, Syria and Kyrgyz Republic in Group E.
Reigning champions and host nation Uzbekistan will begin their title defence against Tajikistan, India and Pakistan in Group F. Mongolia will be counting on home support when they host Group G and go up against DPR Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Cambodia have yet to reach the Finals but they are determined to impress when they welcome Korea Republic, Australia and Chinese Taipei in Group H.
After missing out on two editions, Group I host, Myanmar, will play against 2016 winners Japan, Timor-Leste and Macau.
Group J host Malaysia, who reached the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time in their history in January, are set to host China PR, Laos and Philippines.
Vietnam, who finished runners-up in the 2018 edition returns to the Qualifiers as host of Group K, where they will meet Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam.
The 11 group winners and four best second-placed teams among all groups will qualify for the Finals, with the host nation of the Finals receiving automatic qualification.
In the event that the host of the Finals, Thailand, finishes among the qualified teams to the Finals (either top of the group or one of the four best second-placed teams), the next (fifth) second-placed team in the ranking among all groups will qualify to the Finals instead.
The 2020 Qualifiers will be held on March 22-26, 2019.