Hosts and holders Qatar to face China at Asian Cup
Holders and hosts Qatar will play China while Japan face a heavyweight clash against Iraq in the group stage of the Asian Cup, following the draw on Thursday in Doha.
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.
Carlos Queiroz, who took over as Qatar coach following a disastrous home World Cup where they failed to win a point, called the draw "excellent".
The former Manchester United assistant and Iran coach at the World Cup said home advantage could be crucial if Qatar are to retain their crown.
"We know exactly what is in front of us and what is next, but the next step is to think about ourselves, it doesn't matter which teams we are going to play," said the Portuguese.
"What is important is to be ready."
Japan, the most successful country in the history of the competition with four titles, were drawn in a 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.
Of other title contenders, Australia, the 2015 champions as hosts, are in Group B alongside Uzbekistan, Syria and India.
"Every draw is tough, but very happy with that draw," said Australia coach Graham Arnold, who took the Socceroos to the knockout rounds of the World Cup before bowing out to eventual champions Argentina in the last 16.
"Obviously having the familiarity of playing here in Qatar will help us as well," said Arnold.
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.
Saudi Arabia, who stunned Lionel Messi's Argentina in the group stage of the World Cup, will be expected to top a Group F also containing Thailand, Kyrgyzstan and Oman.
The top two from each group qualify for the knockout stages.
Eight stadiums, six of which were used at the World Cup, will stage games at the Asian Cup in January-February.
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.