The Asian Cup has generally been dominated by a small number of top teams. Initially successful teams included South Korea and Iran. Since 1984 Japan and Saudi Arabia have been the most successful teams, winning 7 of the previous 8 Finals. Other teams which have achieved success at times include Iraq, Israel and Kuwait.
Australia joined the Asian confederation in 2007, and are hosting the Asian Cup finals in 2015. The 2019 tournament will be expanded from 16 teams to 24 teams, with the qualifying process doubling as part of the qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Unlike other confederation tournaments, the Asian Cup has often been rescheduled to another time of year to better suit the climate of the host nation.
From its humble beginnings in 1956, the AFC Asian Cup has grown into the continent's biggest football event, one that stands proudly alongside any top level competition around the globe in terms of excitement, entertainment and organization. Within the span of five decades, the AFC Asian Cup has encompassed the huge continent bringing together Asia's top national teams every four years in a fantastic feast of top-notch football.
Two years after Asian Football Confederation (AFC) came into being in 1954, the first ever AFC Asian Cup was staged in Hong Kong with seven of the 12 founding members vying for the title to become Asia's best football team. The qualifying process involved the hosts plus the winners of the various zones (central, eastern and western). It was only a four-team tournament, a format that also existed for 1960 and 1964. Each sub-confederation already hosts their own biennial championship, each with varying degrees of interest. The dominance factor has swung between the East and West so far. From the superiority of South Korea in the early years of the competition, the tournament became the preserve of the mighty Iran who won three consecutive tournaments in 1968, 1972 and 1976 which also hosted the first and last editions.
West Asian countries ruled in the eighties with Kuwait becoming the first country from the Arab region to win the championship in 1980, followed by Saudi Arabia's impressive and consecutive wins in 1984 and 1988.
Japan hold the record for the most victories in the tournament's history with title triumphs in 1992, 2000, 2004 and 2011.
Iraq are the only winners in the new millennium (other than Japan) when they famously defeated Saudi Arabia 1–0 in the summit clash in 2007 in Indonesia. The fairy-tale win left the then war-torn nation elated in a clear sign of football's immense power to bring people together as their thrilling triumph at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta hogged the limelight the world over.
The 2007 edition of the AFC Asian Cup also saw Australia come face-to-face for the first time with the footballing powers of Asia before the Socceroos signed off with a creditable quarter-final finish. Having come to grips with Asian football, the Australians went all the way to the final in their next outing four years later only to suffer heartbreak in the pulsating Doha final when they lost to Japan 1–0 in extra-time.
The AFC Asian Cup trophy which is awarded to the winner of the tournament. Since the first tournament it has been awarded to the winning team for them to keep for four years, until the next tournament.