August 25 – The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has marked the ‘500 days to go’ until the 2019 Asian Cup in the UAE with a short film celebrating the history and heritage of the region’s premier national competition.
The 2019 event in the UAE will be expanded from 16 to 24 teams for the first time. The 12 teams currently battling for the AFC’s 2018 World Cup qualification are pre-qualified for the UAE 2019 finals, while a further 12 teams will qualify from the 24 teams currently competing in six qualifying groups that complete in March 2018.
2019 will be the second time the UAE has held the finals, hosting the event last in 1996. Expanded teams means more infrastructure required. AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa praised the Local Organising Committee’s preparations following on from “Australia in 2015 when the world witnessed a truly world-class event.”
“With the expansion of teams able to experience the atmosphere of the finals, the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 will set new benchmarks and will help bring to life the AFC’s Vision and Mission by ensuring the success of Asian teams and players and confirming football as the number one sport throughout the continent,” said Salman.
“I thank the LOC for their commitment and hard work in ensuring that in 2019 we witness a true spectacle befitting of Asia’s finest talents – a tournament that will live in our memory for many years to come.”
The 2019 finals will see 51 matches played in eight stadiums across four Host Cities – Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai and Sharjah – from January 5 to February 1, 2019. The Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi will host the opening match and final.
At a time of regional political unrest in the region, the AFC Cup has the potential to find some common ground in a fractious environment. His Excellency Major General Mohamed Khalfan Al Romaithi, member of the AFC Executive Committee and Vice Chairman of the Higher Local Organizing Committee AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 said: “Football unites us and reaffirms our solidarity in values of fair play, sportsmanship and equality that it imparts. The AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 supports our nation’s vision towards unity and societal development and will be a major catalyst on this journey for the United Arab Emirates.”
The diversity of the Asian Cup is evident in the film that showcases the winners of the competition that was first hosted in Hong Kong in 1954 as a four team event and won by South Korea. Since then the winners have come from East and West Asia with Iran, Japan and Saudi Arabia each having won the title three times. Australia have won the title once. Interestingly Israel won the title in 1964, though they have since switched confederation to play in UEFA competitions.
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