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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 April 2019

Australia's Socceroos dig deep to see champions defend their crown at UAE's Asian Cup

Aussie fans travel half way across world despite high prices and squad's injury woes

Australia has embraced football in recent years and the team is now ranked among the best in the Asian Cup. Dylan Martinez / Reuters
Australia has embraced football in recent years and the team is now ranked among the best in the Asian Cup. Dylan Martinez / Reuters

It is not cheap for Australians to come to the UAE, particularly during the Asian Cup.

The average fan taking the 10,000km-plus trip for the group stages will spend around 9,000 Australian dollars, equivalent to Dh23,000, once travel, accommodation, food and beverages are factored in, according to Kevin Pollard, a passionate 'Socceroo'.

But he says Aussies would pay to “watch two flies wrestling”, such is their love of sport. And Mr Pollard should know - he is leading a fans’ tour to the UAE with the Green and Gold Army travel company and has travelled to the far-flung corners of the globe to support his country.

He believes up to 200 fans in total will make the trip, but their numbers will be bolstered by an estimated 25,000 Australian expats in the UAE.

The team takes on Jordan in Al Ain on Sunday and Mr Pollard expects about 2,000 to be there in person to cheer on the defending champions.

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“We’re a sports loving nation,” he said. “We’d watch two flies wrestling in the middle of the MCG [Melbourne Cricket Ground] if there was entertainment involved.

“We’ve been watching big sporting tournaments all over the world for 50 or 60 years – Aussies travelling huge distances and spending huge amounts of money on watching games.

“Our company took 12 to Iran, 20-something to Honduras, to one of the most dangerous cities in the world, and 800 to the World Cup in Russia.”

A group of 11 Aussies arrived in Dubai yesterday, and were met by Mr Pollard, who took them to the opening ceremony and UAE vs Bahrain curtain raiser in Abu Dhabi. They will then travel to Al Ain to see Australia’s first game, before crossing the border to Oman for sightseeing. They will then move to Dubai to see their country take on Palestine on Friday, before taking in their final group fixture against Syria next week.

Despite retaining their status as one of the tournament favourites, however, the Australian side has been hampered by injuries, while star players who were crucial in their 2015 success have since retired.

But even if their journey ends in a sporting disappointment, Mr Pollard says they will have had a worthwhile experience.

“It’s mostly for the football, but we also see all the sights, immerse ourselves in local culture,” he said.

“We’ll go anywhere for an adventure, to see the sights and most importantly follow our love of watching football.”

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Read more:

In pictures: UAE train ahead of Asian Cup in Abu Dhabi

Lowdown: Groups, teams, tickets and all you need to know

In pictures: A look back on the last time the Emirates host the Asian Cup in 1996

Son Heung-min can ignite South Korea: Five players to watch at the Asian Cup

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Updated: January 5, 2019 12:50 PM

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