A bit of old news.
AFC announced on 24 January 2013 they will be making major changes to the AFC Asian Cup and FIFA World Cup qualification.
Here's the most important part.
Under the new format, Asia’s showpiece event – AFC Asian Cup – will
have 24 teams in the tournament proper instead of 16. The 2014 AFC
Challenge Cup, to be held in Maldives in May this year, will be the last
edition of this competition.
Furthermore, the qualification rounds for FIFA World Cup qualifiers
and AFC Asian Cup qualifiers will be merged for the preliminary round.
Depending on the number of entries, the Member Associations will be
divided into eight groups after preliminary stages. The eight group
winners and four second best teams will qualify for the FIFA World Cup
final round of qualifiers and also the AFC Asian Cup finals. Presently,
only ten teams battle it out in the final round of FIFA World Cup
The next best 24 teams from the preliminary qualification round (24
teams) will compete for the remaining slots in the AFC Asian Cup finals
in six groups of four teams each.
Yes, it seems 24 is the new 16. How long until CAF follow suit?
The format looks to be like this:
1. Preliminary round to trim the number of teams from 46 (or 47 if the Northern Mariana Islands are allowed to participate) to 40.
2. Eight groups of five teams. Winners and four best 2nd placed teams will qualify for the AFC Asian Cup and the next round of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
3. These 12 teams will compete for World Cup qualification (format unknown).
3. The next 24 best teams will be divided in six groups of four teams each to compete for the remaining AFC Asian Cup finals.
Who will profit the most from this expansion?
There have been 3 editions with 16 teams (2004, 2007, 2011). Using the same approach as for the EURO expansion, I've looked at the qualifiers for these editions and I've considered the best 8 non-qualified teams.
Here's what I've got:
3 - Yemen, Singapore
2 - Syria, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Lebanon
1 - Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, Thailand, Indonesia, Tajikistan, Pakistan
I don't think the 2019 AFC Asian Cup group stage will be a very close contest.