The 2019 Asian Cup is the “biggest sports event ever hosted in the UAE”, according to organisers, as Friday marked 50 days to kick-off.
The Emirates will stage Asian football’s showpiece tournament for only the second time, with the action taking place January 5-February 1. For the first time, 24 teams will contest the trophy – an increase from 16 countries in 2015.
“Before the first ball has even been kicked, this is already the biggest sporting event we’ve ever hosted because so many have played a part in setting the stage,” said Aref Al Awani, tournament director for the Local Organising Committee (LOC).
“We have received so much energy and enthusiasm from the communities, and this in turn drives our determination to ensure that the stadiums and facilities are ready for a spectacular tournament to take place.
“Now I call on people to bring that drive to the matches, show their support and really get behind their countries wherever possible.”
Pre-tournament activations have included the largest schools’ programme in UAE history, reaching more than 75,000 schoolchildren, and the “It’s My Game” initiative, which concentrates on women’s participation in the sport.
“Across the continent, the focus has now shifted to the UAE and there is an undeniable sense of excitement among Asia’s passionate fans,” Asian Football Confederation (AFC) general secretary Dato’ Windsor John said.
“After four years of incredible hard work, we are now just days away from the biggest and best-ever edition of the AFC Asian Cup. Together with the LOC, the AFC is committed to creating a true celebration and festival for our fans, one that will showcase Asian football at its finest.”
As hosts, the UAE have been drawn in Group A alongside Bahrain, India and Thailand. They get the tournament under way against their Gulf neighbours on January 5, at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
Australia are the defending champions, and will compete in Group B together with Syria, Jordan and Palestine.