Iraqi football officials are confident that the ex-Manchester City and Lazio coach will sign up to lead the Lions of Mesopotamia, according to reports.
The 70-year-old Swede met with representatives of the Iraq Football Association in Istanbul this week and Reuters cites a federation source as saying Eriksson had agreed to take charge of the team. The source said the matter would be discussed further by the federation on Monday.
Sources close to Eriksson, however, told Reuters that the vastly experienced coach had yet to make a decision on whether to accept the offer.
Iraq are due to play in next year’s Asian Cup finals, 12 years after claiming their sole continental title, beating three-time champions Saudi Arabia in the Jakarta final in 2007.
They have been drawn with Iran, Vietnam and Yemen in the group phase of the tournament, which will kick off in the Emirates on January 5, 2019.
If Eriksson is to lead the Lions into battle, he will face Vietnam in the Group D opener at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium on January 8, before heading to Sharjah to take on Yemen four days later, with a likely table-topping clash against Iran taking place at Al Nasr’s Al Maktoum Stadium on January 16.
Eriksson, who led England to the World Cup quarter-finals in 2002 and 2006, has not coached at international level since working with the Ivory Coast at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The veteran manager has been in China since 2013, with his most recent role in the country’s second division when he spent half a season with Shenzhen FC. He also had stints with Chinese Super League giants Guangzhou R&F and Shanghai SIPG.
Prior to working with England, Eriksson won league titles in Sweden, Portugal and Italy.
The Asian Cup has been described as the “jewel in the crown of Asian football” by organisers of the 2019 tournament, which kicks off in the UAE in January.
Next year’s tournament, the 17th edition of the Asian Cup, will kick off on January 5 at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium when the hosts take on Gulf neighbours Bahrain in the opening game.
It concludes with the final, also at the same venue, on February 1. The Whites will hope to feature in that game, just like they did the last and only time the tournament was hosted in the Emirates, 22 years ago.
On that occasion, the UAE lost 4-2 on penalties to rivals Saudi Arabia, who won their third crown. Next year’s hosts await their first title, but their case won’t be made easier by the fact the country will host the biggest ever edition of the Asian Cup, with 24 teams competing – an upgrade of eight from the 16 nations who have featured at the last four tournaments.
Tickets go on sale on Monday, with eight stadiums across four UAE cities – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain and Sharjah – hosting a mammoth total of 51 matches.
“We are really happy that we’re hosting a tournament that is huge for Asia, the most important in Asia. The Asian Cup is the jewel in the crown of Asian football,” said Aref Al Awani, tournament director of the Local Organising Committee, at the ticket launch in the capital on Thursday.
“It is exciting because at the beginning when we did the bidding it 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.
“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. And we are sure they will.”
Al Awani is confident that fans will flock to each venue, thanks to the diverse and colourful cultural landscape of the UAE, with the likes of India, the Philippines, Iran, Syria and Saudi expected to draw huge crowds.
The estimated amount of Indians living in the UAE is believed to be just over 27 per cent of the approximate 9.54 million (2.62m) people that call the country home.
They outweigh the native Emirati population by around 16 per cent. Filipinos, meanwhile, are said to make up around five per cent of the population (530,000) and Iran four per cent (454,000).
For these reasons, and given the proximity to one another of the host cities, plus the fact each team will play their three group matches at different venues, Al Awani believes attendances could soar with travel between each city relatively short.
“For sure it is a big advantage,” he added. “This makes us really optimistic that we will have a high number of attendances. For example, we are talking about the large fan base of India, the Philippines, 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.”
Ticket prices begin at Dh25 for the group stages, with those for the final stages ranging between Dh75 and Dh300.
“Our aim was not to have that expensive tickets so to keep it within the disposal of anyone who would like to attend the matches,” added Al Awani.
“We promise everybody who is attending the tournament is going to have a good experience.”
The addition of eight more teams has also given less experienced footballing nations like India and the Philippines a chance to shine on the huge continental stage.
The Philippines and Kyrgyzstan will feature at the Asian Cup for the first time.
This will be only be India’s second appearance in the competition since 1988. Syria, Thailand and Turkmenistan will appear for the first time in 15 years, while Lebanon and Vietnam both qualified for the first time having featured previously only as hosts, in 2000 and 2007 respectively. Vietnam and Yemen, meanwhile, are both qualifying for the first time as unified nations.
Eleven teams, including the UAE, feature from the West Asian Football Federation, which excites Al Awani as it throws up several rival clashes between nations.
“Most of the derbies are Arab nations and that’s something that is different,” he added.
“We found there are a lot of derbies, so we’re waiting for very nice derbies, competitive matches.
“And there are a lot of new teams that will give a boost to the tournament. We know from hosting other sports events that these fans really love their sport. And we are hoping the same applies to the Asian Cup.”
Al Awani also believes the tournament, which will come hot on the heels of the FIFA Club World Cup in December, hosted by the UAE for the second successive year, will continue the buzz after a World Cup year.
“And as well we have Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Iran, who did an amazing job at the World Cup. Most of them were unlucky and presented a very high performance.
“So everybody now from the other teams are preparing to elevate their performance just to be equal to those teams.”
With six months to go until the UAE host the AFC Asian Cup, early bird group ticket packages for corporates are now available for purchase.
From January 5 to February 1, a total of 24 nations including the UAE will be batting for glory in the largest Asian Cup ever. A total of 51 matches will be played in eight stadiums across Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.
In support of the Local Organising Committee’s (LOC) aim of ‘Bringing Asia Together’, group ticket packages allow businesses the chance to bring their employees to celebrate Asia as one. This is the first ticket release from the LOC and offers groups the chance to reserve tickets before they go on general sale later this summer.
Australia are bidding to retain their title after winning the title in 2015 while Alberto Zaccheroni, who managed Japan’s 2011 triumph, will be hoping to replicate his success for hosts UAE.
“We’ve had a phenomenal amount of interest from the business community in the UAE looking to secure seats to the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, which is exciting to see,” he said. “These packages will allow local companies the opportunity to bring their employees together for a truly unforgettable experience and in turn support us unite a continent in the Emirates.
“We have a very diverse workforce in the UAE, which includes most of the Asian nations heading to compete here in January 2019. We also have many football fans from these countries and others from Western nations living in the UAE, too. We see a real chance here for employees to be brought together in a celebration of football and Asia.”
Dato Windsor John, General Secretary of the Asian Football Confederation, added: “Asian Cup is the pinnacle of national team football in Asia and the tournament in UAE will be the biggest and best ever staged with the potential for thousands of fans to follow their teams. The UAE is home to a diverse population and the group sales offer them all a chance to take part in this celebration of football.”
What: Asian Cup Corporate tickets
Where: Various locations
When: January 5 to February 1
Contact: For more information on how to purchase, email [email protected]