Indian men’s football team have been placed in Group B for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup alongside title contenders Australia, the 2015 champions, with the other two spots going to Uzbekistan and Syria following the draw on Thursday in Doha.

The Blue Tigers, who are ranked 101 in the FIFA Rankings, and will be playing the AFC Asian Cup for the fifth time, will battle with Australia (ranked 29th), Uzbekistan (ranked 74th), and Syria (ranked 90th) for a place in the round of 16.

The top two teams from each of the six groups will directly qualify for the round of 16 while the four best third-placed teams will join them in the knockouts to make up the numbers.

This is the first time the Indian men have qualified for the tournament finals two editions in a row.

India finished third in their group in the AFC Asian Cup qualifying second round. In the third round of qualifying, Stimac’s team won all three of their group matches against Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Cambodia to secure their place in the AFC Asian Cup finals.

AIFF President Kalyan Chaubey, Senior Men’s National Team head coach Igor Stimac, and Women’s national coach Maymol Rocky were present at the Qatar Opera House for the official draw ceremony.

Stimac said after the draw, “We will be facing Australia, Uzbekistan and Syria in the AFC Asian Cup, and it’s going to be a tough battle for us. It’s much tougher than four years ago, but we will be there to fight every step of the way. It’s all about the time we have in front of us to prepare well, to obtain the work that is needed, and to be at the strongest possible point by next January.”

Holders and hosts Qatar will play China while Japan face a heavyweight clash against Iraq in the group stage.

The enlarged 24-team Asian Cup kicks off on January 12 next year with Qatar, who staged the World Cup last winter, facing Lebanon. Also in Group A are tournament debutants Tajikistan.

Japan, the most successful country in the history of the competition with four titles, were drawn in a tricky-looking Group D which also includes fellow former champions Iraq.

Hajime Moriyasu’s Japan side are the top-ranked team in Asia and beat Spain on the way to the last 16 at the Qatar World Cup.

South Korea, now under German legend Jurgen Klinsmann and boasting Asia’s best player in Son Heung-min, are in Group E along with Malaysia, Jordan and Bahrain.

Hong Kong, returning to the continental showpiece for the first time since 1968, are in Group C with Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Palestine.

Eight stadiums, six of which were used at the World Cup, will stage games.

The 89,000-capacity Lusail stadium, which hosted the World Cup final, is not among them.

The Asian Cup was supposed to take place this summer in China but was moved because of the country’s strict Covid rules.

Captain Sunil Chhetri’s four crucial goals for India during AFC Asian Cup qualifiers

Groups for the Asian Cup in Qatar following Thursday’s draw in Doha. Tournament starts on January 12.

Group A: Qatar, China, Tajikistan, Lebanon

Group B: Australia, Uzbekistan, Syria, India

Group C: Iran, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Palestine

Group D: Japan, Indonesia, Iraq, Vietnam

Group E: South Korea, Malaysia, Jordan, Bahrain

Group F: Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman