500 days to go until the Asian Cup UAE
There is nothing quite like that big tournament buzz that generates around a country as it hosts a major championship. In recent years, in the GCC we've become far too used to watching the world's biggest football competitions on our televisions. Well, in 500 days that is about to change as kick-off to UAE-hosted AFC Asian Cup has begun.
Since previously hosting the event in 1996, the UAE team has ascended to be a major contender in Asian football's biggest event - even finishing third, two years ago in Australia.
Taking place on from January 5 to February 1, 2019, with the growth in infrastructure (and popularity) of the sport across the GCC, the 17th edition of the tournament looks all set to be one of the biggest in its history.
Here are some fun facts about the tournament to start getting you excited:
8 stadiums were picked across Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al-Ain and Sharjah to host the precious tournament.
The stadiums are expected to expand before the start of the tournament.
Al Jazira stadium
Zayed Sports City
Al Nahyan Stadium
Maktoum bin Rashid Al-Maktoum stadium
Hazza Bin Zayed stadium
Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium
Although unlikely, the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid stadium in Dubai is also expected to host a few matches, although no date of completion has been announced yet. Construction is yet to start on the stadium.
For the first time ever, 24 teams will be competing for gold, expanding from 16 in earlier editions.
As of now, 12 teams have already booked their places in the finals. Aside from the hosts, the UAE and current title-holders Australia who have gained automatic promotion; Japan - the most successful-4-time Asian cup champions- along with 3-time winners Saudi Arabia and Iran; as well as Qatar, South Korea, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Syria, Iraq and China; will all be battling it out for a place in the 2021 confederations cup.
The remaining 24 teams have been potted into groups of 4, out of which only 12 teams will gain qualification to complete the final 24.
The UAE will be looking to win their first ever Asian title after coming very close in 1996 as the host, losing to Saudi Arabia in the final on penalties.
Bronze medalists in the last instalment, lost to potential champions Australia in the semi-finals of the 2015 AFC Asian cup, in their best run away from home.
After hosting the tournament in 1996, the UAE will be hosting the tournament for the second time, ever.
With 44% of the hosts winning the trophy in previous editions, it can only be good news for the hosts; fingers crossed.
As they enter the tournament armed with the best player in Asia, in 2015, Ahmed Khalil and “the Emarati Messi” Omar Abdulrahman who won the award in the following year.
Ahmed Khalil Omar Abdulrahman
Aside from the UAE's Omar Abdulrahman, a fair amount of noticeable players will be competing for other sides. Including, Leicester city’s Shinji Okazaki and A.C. Milan’s Keisuke Honda representing Japan, Tottenham’s Hueng-min Son and Swansea’s Sung-yueng Ki representing South Korea while title holders will be starting with Huddersfield’s Aaron Mooy.
The UAE is expected to take this competition into new heights, with more teams included; the UAE will be looking to beat all the records set by Australia in the 2015 edition; after the resounding success in TV viewership, attendance and social media records.
Good news is as residents we're on our way to wittnessing history, bad news is it's going to be a long road until 2019.