This 1980 AFC Asian Cup qualification phase started in December 1978 while other qualification matches took place in early 1979. A total of 18 teams participated. Eight teams from the top two of each group advance to the final tournament, joining hosts Kuwait and defending champions Iran.
|Dates||25 December 1978 – 14 May 1979|
|Teams||17 (from 1 confederation)|
|Goals scored||91 (2.94 per match)|
|Group 1||Group 2||Group 3||Group 4|
|Syria||2||1||1||0||1||0||+1||3||1980 AFC Asian Cup|
|United Arab Emirates||2||0||2||0||0||0||0||2|
- All matches played in the United Arab Emirates.
|United Arab Emirates||0–0||Lebanon|
- In the 17 November match between Syria and Bahrain, the referee awarded a penalty to Bahrain. The Syrian head coach entered the pitch, threatening the referee, who stopped the match in the 81st minute. The committee initially awarded the match 3–0 in favour of Bahrain, but Syria threatened to withdraw; the committee adjusted its decision to a replay of the match on 25 November, but then Bahrain withdrew. All matches involving Bahrain were annulled.
|Qatar||4||3||1||0||10||2||+8||7||1980 AFC Asian Cup|
- All matches played in Bangladesh.
- All matches played in Thailand.
- Allocation matches to determine groups
- Singapore received a bye
|Malaysia||2||1||1||0||5||2||+3||3||1980 AFC Asian Cup|
|Santokh Singh 35'
James Wong 51'
Bakri Ibni 55'
Mokhtar Dahari 88'
|Iswadi Idris 71'|
|Thailand||3||3||0||0||9||0||+9||6||1980 AFC Asian Cup|
Third place play-offEdit
|South Korea||3||3||0||0||10||1||+9||6||1980 AFC Asian Cup|
- All matches played in the Philippines.
|Team||Qualified as||Qualified on||Previous appearance|
|Kuwait||Hosts||2 (1972, 1976)|
|Iran||1976 AFC Asian Cup champions||13 June 1976||3 (1968, 1972, 1976)|
|Syria||Group 1 winners||22 November 1979||0 (debut)|
|United Arab Emirates||Group 1 runners-up||23 November 1979||0 (debut)|
|Qatar||Group 2 winners||15 January 1979||0 (debut)|
|Bangladesh||Group 2 runners-up||16 January 1979||0 (debut)|
|North Korea||Group 3 winners||12 May 1979||0 (debut)|
|Malaysia||Group 3 runners-up||11 May 1979||1 (1976)|
|South Korea||Group 4 winners||29 December 1978||4 (1956, 1960, 1964, 1972)|
|China||Group 4 runners-up||29 December 1978||1 (1976)|
In the 17 November match between Syria and Bahrain, the referee awarded a penalty to Bahrain. The Syrian head coach entered the pitch, threatening the referee, who stopped the match in the 81st minute. The committee initially awarded the match 3–0 in favour of Bahrain, but Syria threatened to withdraw; the committee adjusted its decision to a replay of the match on 25 November, but then Bahrain withdrew. All matches involving Bahrain were annulled.