AFC predicts that expanded 2019 Asian Cup will spark football boom
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have revealed ambitious plans to use the expanded 2019 Asian Cup to make football Asia's number one sport.
The 2019 tournament in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will showcase the best of Asian talent and feature Thailand and Vietnam as Southeast Asia's representatives, while the Philippines and Myanmar are still in with a chance of qualifying.
The Organising Committee for the continental championship met in Bangkok this week and outlined their vision for the U.A.E.
They believe that increasing the number of participating countries to 24 should help them reach more people.
"We have expanded the tournament from 16 to 24 teams for the finals and the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 promises to be bigger and better than ever," Saoud Al Mohannadi, Chairperson of the Organising Committee for the Asian Cup, said.
"It looks like everything is in place and going as planned and the LOC [Local Organising Committee] deserves our thanks and congratulations for their hard work.
"Congratulations also go to the 20 teams who have already qualified and good luck to the seven teams who still have dreams of reaching the UAE 2019."
India have qualified for just the second time since 1984, and the presence of the world's second most populous nation should boost interest in line with the AFC's vision.
Cricket remains the country's favourite sport but, like India's FIFA ranking, the popularity of football is one the rise as evidenced by record crowds at the recent FIFA U17 World Cup.
The Philippines is another nation where football takes a backseat to other sports, with basketball leading the way. However, if the Azkals can claim the one point they need from their final fixture at home to Tajikistan, their qualification could be the catalyst for a football boom in the country.
The final qualifiers for the tournament take place in March next year, with the draw for the group stages being held the following month.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK