Ticket sales for one of the most eagerly-anticipated spectacles in world football – the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 – will go live on Monday at 12:00 noon on the-afc.com.
After a record-setting group stage performance by Asian teams at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the eyes of the football world now turn towards the UAE from January 5-February 1, 2019.
The expanded competition, which is set to welcome an unprecedented 24 teams – eight more than the previous 2015 edition – will take place across eight world-class stadiums in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai and Sharjah, and promises to engage more fans than ever before in the biggest sporting event ever hosted in the region.
Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Shaikh Salman Ebrahim Al Khalifa said: “The AFC ‘s vision and mission outlined our ambitions to provide world-class platforms for our teams, players and passionate fans.
“The launch of ticket sales is an important milestone and the UAE is the perfect host nation to unite the Asian football family. I am confident that the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 will provide the ultimate stage to showcase Asia’s remarkable talent and engage and excite more fans than ever before.
“In the LOC (Local Organising Committee, we have a trusted partner who share our ambitions of bringing Asia together and to deliver the most competitive and accessible Asian Cup to date.”
Ticket prices for the competition have been set to allow as many people as possible—from the millions of Asians already residing in the UAE to the two billion living within a four-hour flight—to come and experience the thrill of top-class, live international football.
Speaking at the launch of tickets for the Asian Cup, vice chairman of the LOC, HE Mohammed Khalfan Al Romaithi, said: “The UAE is honoured to be hosting the most-expansive, most-inclusive AFC Asian Cup in history.
“More teams promise more goals, more action and more drama, and we are confident that our long pedigree of hosting world-class sporting events has prepared us to offer an unsurpassed fan experience for football fans and first-timers alike.
“Moreover, the LOC promises to deliver not just the biggest tournament in the region’s history, but the best. And this will begin with the Asian communities already living in the UAE that are prepared to rally and support their national teams at this exciting, once-in-a-lifetime event.
“There is no better place to embody the tournament motto of ‘Bringing Asia Together’ than right here in the UAE.”
As part of the exciting build-up to ticket sales, a special launch event saw HE Aref Al Awani, tournament director, and children from across the UAE enjoy an opportunity to play at the iconic Zayed Sports City Stadium, where the opener and final of the Asian Cup will be staged.
The event demonstrated the unprecedented scale of the tournament as children held each other’s arm representing the cause of this edition, against a backdrop of a giant ticket, symbolising the sheer scale of the tournament that is coming to the Emirates.
Speaking on the launch of tickets for the Asian Cup, Al Awani said: “The UAE through high mission which represents peace, tolerance, happiness, and openness, welcomes all teams and all nationals of the Asian continent to attend and watch this big continental event, which brings 24 teams together for the first time.
“This great participation is a big focus for us as it reflects the potential of the UAE and its great capabilities in organising the biggest and most important global and continental sporting events.
“The announcement of the general ticket sale is a proof that the countdown has started, and the preparations are going on the right path.
“The organising committee continues its efforts and preparations in order to launch the event in the best possible way and the meeting of children from different cultures during the launch of ticket sales reflects the spirit of unity in the tournament.”
CAT3 CAT2 CAT1
GROUP STAGE Dh25 Dh50 Dh75
ROUND 16 Dh25 Dh50 Dh75
QUARTER-FINALS Dh50 Dh75 Dh150
SEMI-FINALS Dh50 Dh75 Dh150
FINAL Dh75 Dh150 Dh300
Croatia outshining their 1998 golden generation. Egypt making just a second-ever finals and first in almost 30 years. England casting years of shame and embarrassment aside with one of their most inexperienced and youngest teams. Hopeless Russia providing a nation with plenty of it for the future.
These were the best feel-good stories of this summer’s World Cup. The most epic tale, however, never quite got to be told.
Syria, torn apart by an intense civil war since 2011. Yet despite all the unrest and bloodshed, their national team were a whisker away from making a maiden World Cup this summer.
The Qasioun Eagles had their wings clipped by Australia in Asian qualifying, making a resplendent run to the latter stages before they lost 3-2 in the play-offs to the shaky-looking Socceroos, who nevertheless somehow won the on-field battle to earn a spot in Russia.
But the Eagles won’t remain flightless for long. Next January Syria will surely soar when they feature at the 2019 Asian Cup – where their heartbreaking yet heroic, and rather quite brilliant story, will finally be read by the masses.
It’s a story Syria boss Bernd Stange hopes is far from over either.
“It should be a great challenge but we cannot underestimate any team in qualification,” Stange, the experienced German coach, said.
Syria line-up in Group B in the UAE in January alongside reigning champions Australia, as well as Palestine, who featured for the first time Down Under in 2015. Jordan make up the quartet.
“Palestine are a good team, we are a good team, Australia are a good team and then maybe you believe Jordan is an underdog. But they aren’t. You have Palestine first up and you have to be ready for the Asian Cup. That’s why nobody is afraid but we respect all the teams. We will be ready on January 5.”
Led by the reigning Asian Player of the Year Omar Khrbin – already familiar with UAE audiences having risen to prominence in the Emirates with Al Dhafra during a 2016-17 spell – Stange is rightly confident.
“Honestly I believe Syria should make the next stage after the group,” said Stange, speaking in Dubai at the draw for the competition back in May.
“We go step by step. Circumstances are not easy for us, even in the preparation stage. We have to make the group stage and we should be strong enough. Players are strong enough and want to achieve something. We will see, if we make it past the group stage I think everything can happen.”
It takes a special and mentally strong person to want to take a job like Stange’s. The 70-year-old had coached in comfort for the most part of his career, taking charge of East Germany’s Under-21s, Olympic and finally the senior team in the late 1970s and throughout the 80s before reunification in 1990.
He then moved on to Germany’s top-flight with Hertha Berlin, before coaching stints in Ukraine and Australia. He wondered even more off the beaten path, briefly, when he was named the head coach of the Oman national team in 2001. A year later he got really adventurous, taking the Iraq job.
Amid threats from United States President George W Bush of a possible military conflict with the country, Stange arrived in Baghdad in October 2002 and put pen to paper on a four-year contract that included a clause allowing him to leave in the event of war.
US military forces invaded in 2003 but Stange stayed put. From bullets being fired at his bodyguard to witnessing sites of suspected chemical attacks, he’s clearly not a man who chases an easy life, or runs from a difficult one.
He signed a contract to take over Syria in January this year. He lives in the capital Damascus despite being aware of the reported 400,000 people that have been killed or reported missing over seven years of war.
What makes a man want to continue to work in these sorts of environments, where there is such risk?
“People are hungry to see football,” Stange says, simply.
“It was similar in Iraq and maybe it was tougher there after the war. It was very dangerous, with hostages and all the other things.
“I’ve been in Basra for a tournament with Qatar and Iran with capacity crowds, 65,000, in the stadium. But if you see how those people need football. A 15-year boycott and now they are happy to be in Karbala or Basra, and that’s a motivation for me.
“It’s a challenge to do similar things with the Syrian team, that’s my goal. Now I am focused to do my job in Syria and I’m not afraid because if you are afraid you cannot go to an airport in Europe, you cannot go to a Christmas market, you cannot go to a coffee shop in Paris, it’s everywhere.
“I hope the world will be quiet and we can play football and make people happy.”
Pushed on why he took the Syria job rather than ease more gently towards retirement, he adds: “I had easy jobs, with Perth Glory in Australia. It’s easier to coach such a team or in Germany or Belarus.
“I thought I would finish my job (after the failed World Cup qualification) but they are so kind these people, and so full of hope after our campaign. We met each other and with the players, I feel there’s a very good atmosphere and that’s why I’ve signed this contract until January.”
Bert van Marwijk qualified fellow Asian Cup opponents Saudi Arabia for this summer’s World Cup. But he didn’t get the chance to take them to Russia as he was sacked during contract extension discussions – although he did end up going, coincidentally in charge of the Socceroos.
The Dutchman attracted criticism for his reluctance to relocate to the country during his two years in charge. That is not an issue for Stange though who happily resides in the Syrian capital.
“For me, I’m like a Syrian. I’m living with them, I do my job in Damascus,” he said.
“It’s not easy right now as you know and very difficult to plan the future under circumstances of war. It’s now seven years that nothing goes normal and it’s not easy. But I try to do my job.”
He also reserves plenty of praise for the players, who have forged successful paths outside their homeland. Although they must do so knowing the dangers their families deal with on a day to day basis back home.
He is proud of their commitment, saying: “You know these are Syrians who left their country, but their families are still there. Asian player of the year Omar Khrbin, Omar Osama are all coming back for Ramadan to see their families and they are committed. They are Syrians.
“I felt similar things when I visited players in Europe, in Germany, in Holland, in Sweden, in Italy, they are all Syrians, they want to show they want to play for their home country.”
Stange was hired as Iraq coach after the country’s football authorities were impressed by him earning a 1-0 victory over them with Oman.
And the German feels his impressive handling of the Lions of Mesopotamia was what led to Syrian football officials approaching him.
“I think they approached me to coach Syria because of this experience which I made in Iraq before and after the war,” he added.
“To be quiet under difficult circumstances, to show leadership, to show them a way to make international contacts, to arrange training, good matches. That’s maybe why they approached me.
“I’m quite happy to now, everything is on track and that’s why I think we are not a dark horse for this tournament. I think we can achieve something.”
Syria’s is a story already worth reading, but Stange feels he and his current squad can add a few more chapters come January.
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.