The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has confirmed that the UAE will host the 2019 Asian Cup after unanimously beating off competition from Iran to stage the continent’s premier football tournament.
The announcement was made on the AFC’s official Twitter account following its executive committee meeting in Manama, Bahrain, on Monday morning.
It is expected that the event in four years’ time will see the tournament increased from 16 nations to 24.
Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Oman and Kuwait had all bid for the event, with China and Bahrain withdrawing after showing initial interest.
“The UAE won the right unanimously,” AFC chief Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said.
We are pleased to announce that the United Arab Emirates will host the AFC #AC2019
— The-AFC.com (@theafcdotcom) March 9, 2015
“I would like to congratulate the UAE FA on their successful bid to host the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
“The AFC Executive Committee was convinced by the merits of the UAE bid. I firmly believe that the UAE FA will host a tournament that could match and potentially even surpass the stunning AFC Asian Cup 2015 in Australia that we have all just witnessed.”
AFC officials visited the UAE last month for final inspections of the proposed stadia, with six AGL grounds put forward as venues across Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.
It will be the first time since 1996 that the Emirates have hosted the Asian Cup and the UAE will be hoping for a repeat of their run to the final that year, although they fell just short against Saudi Arabia in the showpiece.
That event was held across just three stadiums in the UAE, with sporting infrastructure in its early stages of development at the time.
This year’s edition saw Mahdi Ali’s UAE team finish third after being beaten in the semi-final by eventual winners, and hosts, Australia.
FIFA Under-20 and Under-17 World Cups in 2003 and 2013 have previously been held in the UAE, as has the FIFA Club World Cup in 2009 and 2010. The country’s sports council is also bidding for the FIFA Club World Cups in 2017 and 2018.
The latter would be played one month before the 2019 Asian Cup.
Al Ahli star Habib Fardan believes a strong showing in the AFC Champions League can help the club revive their faltering season.
Struggling down in seventh place in the AGL, the reigning UAE champions face their Saudi Arabian namesakes on Wednesday – Al Ahli of Jeddah.
— Al Ahli FC (@AlAhli_UAE) February 23, 2015
And Fardan, who on Monday helped adidas launch the ‘There will be Haters’ advertising campaign in Dubai, said: “We were hoping to be better than our results but step by step we are improving. Now we are concentrating on the Asian Champions League.
“I hope we change the image and show everybody who Al Ahli are and perform much better than the beginning of the season.
“It’s going to be a hard game of course because Al Ahli are in a good position. They are performing very well so it’s going to be a hard game for both teams. I think it will be a great game.”
Fardan was also full of praise for his UAE international team-mate Omar Abdulrahman who this week inked a new three-year contract with club Al Ain.
“I want to congratulate Omar for signing a new contract,” he said. “I think he is going to improve and he will be able to play in a good team in Europe in the future. In my opinion, I think he can play in any league in Europe.”
Al Ain boss Zlatko Dalic and his players are dreaming of AFC Champions League glory as they kick off their 2015 campaign against Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab Riyadh on Tuesday night.
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The Boss have bad memories of Riyadh-based opponents after losing 4-2 on aggregate to Al Hilal in last season’s semi-final.
Dalic’s men were undone by a disastrous first leg at the King Fahd Stadium last September, a game in which goalkeeper Khalid Essa was red-carded as Al Ain lost 3-0.
— ASAMOAH GYAN (@ASAMOAH_GYAN3) February 23, 2015
With their semi-final exit still fresh in the memory, Dalic said everyone is hoping to go one better this season.
“The dream is most certainly to win the continental title, it is the dream of all the players and we should strive to put in strong performances in order to be competitors for the title,” said the Croatian.
“At the first round of the group stage this requires good concentration.
“We got the best results in the previous version and were on the cusp of the final. It is important to start in the best possible way, and we look forward to going all the way in the tournament.”
Al Ain’s Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan, meanwhile, feels the Boss are better equipped to claim the title following last season’s near miss.
“We are better prepared and it will be a great incentive for us after we demonstrated the merits of our team last season, but the first target will be to succeed in the first round,” said the 29-year-old, who scored 12 goals in 12 Champions League games last season.
The Garden City club go into tonight’s game on the back of a shock 1-0 defeat at Fujairah in the Arabian Gulf League, but Dalic says that result is behind them.
“What happened at Fujairah will not affect us at the continental level, we have a big ambition in the tournament,” he said.
“We are in a new competition and the goal will remain the same, after we reached the semi-finals in the last version. We have six games, from which we should be reaping nine or 10 points to ensure our presence in the next round.”
Midfielder Omar Abdulrahman answered questions about his Al Ain future on Sunday by signing a lucrative new long-term contract at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, but he will not be rushed back into the team after injury.
Speaking ahead of the game, Abdulrahman, 23, said: “We need to do our best in the AFC Champions League. This is an important competition for us and it’s one of our targets.
“To achieve our target we need to be all as one, the players, the club, the staff and the fans.”
Opponents Shabab are in terrible form domestically, having not won in four Saudi Pro League games. They have lost two and drawn two, including conceding twice in the last 10 minutes as they drew 4-4 with Hajer on Thursday.