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The most prestigious of competitions in the Asian region is held on a four yearly basis. Founded in 1956 by the Asian Football Confederation, the competition had problems in its early days associated with the political situations in Israel and Taiwan. In the very first tournament, both Afghanistan and Pakistan withdrew at their being drawn with Israel in the first round of qualification, whilst it took the Chinese until the 1976 competition to enter due to Taiwan entering previous competitions.

The first four competitions were conducted with a league basis over both the qualification and finals stages and it was not until the 1972 competition in Thailand that the Asian Cup had its first official final game when Iran beat the two-time champions from South Korea by two goals to one to retain their crown won four years earlier. The Iranians together with the South Koreans and Saudi Arabia have been the most dominant sides over the history of the competition with the Iranians running up the fantastic record between 1968 and 1976, of winning every one of their Asian Cup matches on their way to a unprecedented hat-trick of titles.

With the Middle-Eastern oil-boom of the mid 1970s the competition become dominated to a large extent by those oil-rich nations with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia winning the competition between 1980 and 1996. For the Saudi's the competition has, in recent years, become almost their personal possession with three wins in the previous four competitions up to 1996, with only the briefest interruption to their supremacy when in 1992 they lost in the final by one goal to nil to the Japanese.