The quest to be the newest champion in Asian football begins today, as teams all across the continent begin their quest for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, Vientiane and Yangon.
The tournament designed for emerging football nations will have a new champion, as North Korea has been reclassified by the AFC and is no longer going to participate in this competition. Twenty nations will fight over the right to play in the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia, the last time that the Challenge Cup will be automatically be given a berth for the top tier continental competition.
The twenty nations were distributed to five groups of four, with the group winners automatically joining 2014 AFC CC Finals hosts Maldives. The remaining two berths will be determined by the two best second-place teams in the different groups.
Interestingly enough, the first competitive action for the AFC CC will be at the venue of the 2012 edition. At 4:15pm in Manila, Palestine and Bangladesh will face each other in the 1st match of Group D, followed by the recent Manila visitors Northern Mariana Islands against group hosts Nepal.
The next group to open play will come 45 minutes later, as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka open Group C play, followed by group host Laos going against Mongolia. 30 minutes after that, Group A opens play with India playing Chinese-Taipei, then Guam plays Myanmar.
The remaining groups will have their matches at a later date, with Group B kicking off play on March 17-21 at the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, while the Philippines managed to move the Group E matches to the FIFA international break scheduled on March 22-26.