Dubai: The 500-day countdown to the UAE’s hosting of the 2019 Asian Cup began on Wednesday.
The event returns to the UAE for only the second time since 1996 and will be the biggest ever with 24 teams — eight more than 2015.
A total of 51 matches will take place in eight stadiums across four host cities — Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai and Sharjah — over 28 days of riveting action from January 5 to February 1, 2019. Zayed Sports City Stadium, one of three stadiums holding Asian Cup games in Abu Dhabi, will host the final.
With 16 months remaining before the tournament, Asian Football Confederation officials will visit at the end of this month to inspect stadiums.
The race for the final 12 spots is also heating up with qualification reaching the midway mark next month.
The UAE, Australia, China, Iraq, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Qatar, Saudi Arabi, Syria, Thailand and Uzbekistan have already qualified.
Shaikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, president of Asian Football Confederation (AFC), has praised the preparations underway by the host nation as the LOC enters the next phase of the tournament preparations.
“The AFC Asian Cup is the crowning jewel of the AFC’s competitions and this was underlined in Australia in 2015 when the world witnessed a truly world-class event,” said Shaikh Salman.
“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.
“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.”