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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 August 2018

Expanded Asian Cup UAE 2019 'a big advantage' to attract more fans, say organisers

The continent's flagship football tournament will welcome 24 teams to the UAE, up from 16 in previous editions

Asian Cup UAE 2019 tournament director Aref Al Awani holds a press conference in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Asian Cup UAE 2019 tournament director Aref Al Awani holds a press conference in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Organisers of the 2019 Asian Cup are confident the UAE’s diverse population will ensure the tournament is well attended.

The January 5-February 1 event, the continent’s flagship football competition, takes place in the Emirates for only the second time and has been expanded from 16 to 24 teams.

Tickets go on sale on Monday, with organisers hopeful the increase in the number of sides will entice more supporters to watch matches live.

With 24 countries competing across 51 games, the national teams of six million people currently residing in the UAE will be represented.

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“For sure it is a big advantage,” said Aref Al Awani, tournament director of the Local Organising Committee, on Thursday. “This makes us really optimistic that we will have high attendances.

“For example, we are talking about the large fan base of India, the Philippines and Thailand. Most of the teams that are going to be here have fans living in the UAE. Besides that, many are expected to come from the East, when it will be the winter break there, so we’re expecting a lot to travel during this period. We think that everything is on our side.”

Matches will be played across eight stadiums and four cities: Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. Tickets begin at Dh25 for the group stages, with those for the final, at Zayed Sports City on February 1, ranging between Dh75 and Dh300. Group ticket sales will be made available.

Given the proximity to one another of the host cities, and that each team will play their three group matches at different venues, Al Awani believes more fans will be encouraged to attend and travel within the country.

“Our aim was to not have very expensive tickets so to keep it affordable for anyone who would like to attend the matches,” he said. “We promise everybody who is attending the tournament is going to have a good experience.

“We're really happy that we’re hosting a tournament that is huge for Asia, the most important in Asia. And that the UAE will be the first to have 24 teams, meaning half the continent will be here.

“There’s always a passion for big football tournaments. We hope our national team and the others will be ready. We are sure they will be.”

The UAE, runners-up when they last hosted in 1996, kick off the tournament on January 5 in the Group A opener against Bahrain, while Syria, Jordan and Palestine have been drawn in Group B alongside defending champions Australia.

Meanwhile, Iran, Iraq and Yemen make up three of the four teams in Group D, with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Lebanon placed in Group E.

“Most of the derbies are Arab nations and that’s something different,” Al Awani said. “So we’re waiting for very nice derbies, very nice competitive matches, and we believe it will work out in our favour also.

"It is exciting because, at the beginning when we did the bidding, the tournament was 16 teams and later it was increased to 24. So it was challenge for us, but a good challenge. And after the draw we are sure the challenge has fallen on our side."

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