Abu Dhabi: The New Year will turn a chapter in the history of the UAE hosting mega sporting events as the stage is set to kick-start the biggest continental football showpiece — the Asian Cup from January 5.
The UAE has spent close to Dh1 billion for the organisation of the event including the upgradation of all the eight stadiums, 25 practice pitches and the hosting of 24 participating nations for the event that runs over 27 days.
“Everything is in place and it’s now up to players to get the ball rolling,” said Aref Al Awani, tournament director of Local Organising Committee and General Secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, while speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of a media conference.
“The upgradation was needed for almost all the stadiums and the overall cost of the tournament has reached up to one billion dirham. The media seating had to be upgraded to around 500-plus in each venue,” revealed Al Awani, adding that around 2,000 accredited journalists from 63 countries will be covering the event.
“We have increased the seating capacity for most of them at an average between 300 to 400 in each stadium,” said Al Awani, adding that the LOC is relieved that they have completed all the guidelines set by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
“It was a huge logistical challenge to put this together. Each stadium had its own challenges and to carry them out was a task,” said Al Awani, who also revealed that Dubai’s Al Nasr Stadium underwent major renovation and it is now good enough to leave behind a legacy for UAE football.
It’s learnt that there is high demand for tickets for the matches involving Saudi Arabia, Syria, the UAE, India and Philippines. Saudi and Syria’s first three matches are almost sold out with fans trying to even get their hands on the tickets reserved for the opposition teams.
“Yes, that’s the trend we are seeing and it’s a good sign. We are aiming to have a full stadium for most of the matches but as of now some of the high profile match tickets have already been sold out. We are hoping that our national team matches will be full,” said Al Awani, who also revealed that UAE’s opening match against Bahrain on January 5 at the Zayed Sports City is also sold out 50 per cent.
Meanwhile, UAE has suffered a major blow ahead of their campaign with Rayan Yaslam, their young midfielder from Al Ain Club, ruled out for the tournament. Rayan had a played a key role in seeing the purple brigade into the final of the Club World Cup against Real Madrid.
His presence would have made a difference but a recurring injury behind the left knee has forced him to see the proceedings from the sidelines.
“It is unfortunate that I have to sit out but I will be supporting the team from the stands. I’m sure despite my absence, the team will achieve good results as I have full confidence in my teammates,” said Rayan on the UAEFA website.
“We are sure it will be full house for the January 5 opener. There will be an opening ceremony for 15 minutes. These last couple of days are crucial as well and we are going all out to promote the event and ensure that people are well aware of it,” said Al Awani.
Expressing confidence on the UAE team’s challenge, the official said: “I don’t see a reason why they shouldn’t be doing well at home irrespective of the group they are in. We have always done well in such tournaments and will be banking on the home support as well. It is going to be interesting for sure,” asserted Al Awani.