On paper, it represents a tough draw for India, as Australia and Uzbekistan have been in high-scoring form and are much higher ranked, while Igor Stimac's India are yet to beat Syria. With the top two from each group and the four best third-place teams moving on to the round-of-16, India have their work cut out.
While this will be India's fifth appearance in the Asian Cup, it will be their first back-to-back appearance. The tournament will be held in Qatar between January 12 and February 10, 2024.
The 24 teams in the tournament are divided into the following six groups are:
Group B: Australia, Uzbekistan, Syria, India
Placed in pot 4 (along with debutants Tajikistan, Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Indonesia), India were the last to be picked in the group.
Decoding India's group
Ranked 29 in the world by FIFA, Australia are the highest ranked side in the group. In the last Asian Cup, they finished second to Jordan in the group stages, before beating Uzbekistan (on penalties) in the round-of-16 before losing in the quarterfinals to UAE. In the 2022 FIFA World Cup, they finished second in the group stages before losing to Argentina in the round-of-16.
India last met Australia in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup group stages, where a Tim Cahill brace led Australia to a comfortable 4-0 win; the scoreline restricted by a superb performance from then goalkeeper Subrata Pal.
Ranked 74, Uzbekistan finished second to Japan in the group stages of the 2019 Asian Cup, before losing to Australia in the pre-quarters. This time around too, they are a free scoring side who eased through qualifying. Their star striker -- Serie A's Eldor Shomurodov -- was the second-highest scorer across all sides in qualifying, with 10 goals.
India last met Uzbekistan in the Merdeka Cup in 2001, which Uzbekistan won 2-1. The last meeting between two footballing entities from the countries was when ATK Mohun Bagan travelled to Qarshi where they lost an AFC Cup inter-zonal semifinal against FC Nasaf Qarshi.
Ranked 90, Syria will be looking to bounce back after a disastrous campaign in 2019. They finished bottom of their group (with only a draw) below Jordan, Australia and Palestine.
India last played Syria in the Intercontinental cup (in Ahmedabad) in 2019, and the two sides played out a 1-1 draw.
How did India qualify?
India had secured their qualification in the second stage of qualifying, after Palestine beat Philippines on the final matchday of qualifying - even before India beat Hong Kong later that day. Earlier India had finished third behind Qatar and Oman (and ahead of Afghanistan and Bangladesh) in the first round of qualifying. They finished on seven points, where Qatar got 22 and Oman 18. This stage had also been the first stage of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup (only top two moved onto the next stage of qualifying for the World Cup).
In the next qualifying round, India beat Hong Kong (4-0), Afghanistan (2-1), and Cambodia (2-0) to top their group and qualify. Sahal Abdul Samad and Sunil Chhetri had been among those who starred as India put in their most sustained run of quality performances together. Coach Igor Stimac had put out attacking lineups in all three matches as India played some of the best football the national team has seen for quite a while. ESPN had written, at the time, that "In the space of a week, India changed up the narratives of a national side that had seemed dour and mediocre while being knocked out of their World Cup qualification group."