x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

AFC president: UAE has strong chance of winning the bid

An eight-member delegation from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) completed an inspection visit to the UAE as the country prepares to put in a bid to host the 2019 Asian Cup. The delegation visited stadiums in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain.

The United Arab Emirates' Ismaeil Matar, in white, vies for the ball against Iraq's Qusay Muneer during an AFC Asian Cup Group D soccer match at Doha, Qatar, January 15, 2011. The UAE says it will bid to host the 2019 edition of the tournament. Saurabh Das / AP Photo
The United Arab Emirates' Ismaeil Matar, in white, vies for the ball against Iraq's Qusay Muneer during an AFC Asian Cup Group D soccer match at Doha, Qatar, January 15, 2011. The UAE says it will bid to host the 2019 edition of the tournament. Saurabh Das / AP Photo

ABU DHABI // An eight-member delegation from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) completed an inspection visit to the UAE last week, as the country prepares to put in a bid to host the 2019 Asian Cup.

The delegation visited stadiums in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain.

The visit marked the first step in a process that would see them visit three other countries in the running, the official submission of bids in May and a likely decision in November by the AFC’s executive committee.

The UAE plans to use six stadiums across the three locations, including the Mohammad bin Zayed Stadium and Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi, and the Hazza bin Zayed and Khalifa bin Zayed stadiums in Al Ain.

In Dubai, the UAE Football Association (FA) plans to use the cricket stadium in Dubai Sports City as well as a new 60,000-capacity stadium that should be completed by 2018.

Another stadium, next to the cricket stadium, is under construction and will be used as a standby venue.

“We have inspected five stadiums and have gathered all the information about the sixth stadium, which should be ready by 2018,” said Dr Tran Quoc Tuan, the head of the delegation.

“The UAE has a strong tradition of hosting AFC and Fifa events.”

In November the AFC will also confirm whether or not the 2019 Asian Cup will have 24 teams, increased from its usual 16.

It is that increase that has necessitated a sixth stadium for the tournament.

The UAE will be competing against bids from Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The delegation plans to visit Thailand at the beginning of April before inspecting Saudi Arabia and Iran by the end of April.

Once the inspections are complete, the team will prepare a report on the bids.

It is on the basis of that report that the AFC will vote on a host for the event.

The UAE can consider itself well-placed, given its track record of hosting several Fifa events, including most recently the Under 17 World Cup last November.

“We are genuinely keen to host this event,” said Yousef Khouri, a FA board member.

“We hosted it once before, in 1996 and have wanted to do so since.

“Football is one of the main sports in the UAE and we have a distinguished record when it comes to hosting events here.

“We have just come out of hosting Fifa’s Under-17 World Cup and that was done very well.

“Our hosting was appreciated by Fifa president Sepp Blatter so we are keen to leave an imprint on this tournament.

“If we do get it, we hope that the 2019 Asian Cup will set new standards for the AFC.”

The inspection team takes into consideration several factors other than stadium facilities, including training sites, security facilities and transportation infrastructures.

Attendance figures at matches, which has generally been low for league matches in the UAE, is not likely to be a factor in the final bid.

“We see whether a country as a whole is an appropriate host,” said Sin Man Gil, a member of the delegation.

“We look at the overall situation within a country. Football is the No 1 sport across Asia and all four countries in the bidding are famous for it, so we don’t worry about attendances.

“We don’t see any issue regarding spectator attendances.”

The UAE bid has received an endorsement of sorts from the AFC president, Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa.

“The UAE have successfully hosted many international competitions and major events in the past and that is what is helping their bid,” he said.

“Of course the decision is not in my hands as there is an executive committee that is responsible for studying all the bids, but I believe the UAE has a strong chance.”

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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