Essential guide to the Asian Cup

The sporting spectacle will be held in Abu Dhabi

Essential guide to the Asian Cup
It’s only a matter of weeks until the whole planet goes football crazy for the World Cup in Russia – but anticipation is also reaching fever pitch for another massive sporting spectacle a lot closer to home.

The draw has now been made for the 2019 Asian Cup, a prestigious continental competition which will see a record 24 teams (split into six groups of four) vying for glory at venues right here in the capital, as well as Al Ain, Sharjah and Dubai.

The tournament, which will take place between January 5 and February 1 across eight locations, will serve up the richest prize in Asian footballing history with a huge $15m purse on offer.

The Asian Cup is the second oldest continental tournament in world football (after the Copa America) with next year marking the seventeenth hosting of the event, dating back to 1956, when South Korea were inaugural champions in Hong Kong.

Japan are the most successful side in Asian Cup history with four wins, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Iran, both of which have a hat-trick of victories. The winners of the tournament not only get to be known as the best team in all of Asia, they also book their ticket for the FIFA Confederations Cup.

Three stadiums in Abu Dhabi will play host to games, Zayed Sports City Stadium, Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium and Al Nahyan Stadium, with Hazza bin Zayed Stadium and Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium In Al Ain also welcoming teams during the tournament.

Reigning champions Australia will be determined to defend the crown they won on home soil in 2015 after a thrilling extra-time win over South Korea.

The Antipodeans will be among the favourites to retain the title, but face fierce competition from the likes of Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and hosts UAE.

The UAE, who finished in third place last time round and were runners-up back in 1996, will hoping home support will drive them to a maiden triumph. The improving team, who finished runners-up in the Gulf Cup and made a strong if ultimately unsuccessful bid to qualify for the World Cup, will have plenty of title-winning pedigree in the dugout.

Vastly experienced Italian boss Alberto Zaccheroni won the Serie A title with AC Milan in 1999 and led Japan to an Asian Cup triumph in 2011.

He took over the reins in October 2017 and will be determined to add to his glittering honour list with the UAE.

The biggest ever Asian Cup is set to the best one ever, too, with several teams set to grace the UAE also showcasing their skills in Russia this summer.

Saudi Arabia will be buoyed by their first appearance on the World Cup stage in 12 years, while perennial qualifiers Japan, South Korea, Iran and Australia will also be looking to build momentum with strong showings in Russia next month.

A feast of football awaits – we can’t wait for the action to get started.

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