National team and tournament hosts will take on Bahrain in the opening match on January 5
UAE complete 2019 Asian Cup group campaign against Thailand
The UAE will round off their 2019 Asian Cup group campaign against Thailand on January 14 at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, after the tournament's final schedule was confirmed on Monday.
The Emirates play host next year to Asia’s marquee competition for only the second time in their history, with the event taking place from January 5 to February 1.
The draw for the expanded tournament - for the first time, it will feature 24 teams - was made in Dubai on Friday night. Placed in Group A, the UAE will open the event against Bahrain at Zayed Sports City Stadium on January 5 before taking on India at the same venue five days later. They then round off the group against World Cup qualification rivals Thailand on January 14.
Meanwhile, Australia’s eagerly anticipated final Group B fixture against Syria is to be played the following day at Al Ain’s Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium. The defending champions have also been drawn against Jordan and Palestine. Other standout fixtures include Iraq against Iran in Dubai on January 16.
“I’m so happy that the draw produced a lot of derbies,” said Aref Al Awani, tournament director of the Local Organising Committee. “We’re talking about Iran and Iraq, and three neighbours in Jordan, Palestine and Syria playing in one group with Australia. For each match day there is a derby, which is so nice to have.
“China against South Korea is there. We have Oman, Uzbekistan and Japan - three very good teams - in one group. Right from the beginning we’re happy that this draw will bring an excitement for each match starting from Day 1.
“The hard work has been there from a long time ago. The time has passed, we are only eight months away, so we hope the hard work continues to deliver a special tournament for everyone.”
On the UAE’s chances of progressing from their group, Al Awani said: “It’s a lucky draw, a good draw. But we should not take it for granted that we are going to qualify directly, because we have to put more effort to start well.
“From an excitement point of view, having a derby with our brothers in Bahrain in the first match will for sure help us with the opening ceremony. From the other side, it’s good for the national team to know from now that they have to put in more effort and then gradually match-by-match to the title. So yes, this is one our wishes that we had a draw like that.”