Dubai: The UAE Football Association (UAE FA) and Pro League Committee (PLC) have laid out a tentative plan that will enable clubs to negotiate a cramped 2018-19 season.
The UAE will play host to the 17th AFC Asian Cup from mid-December 2018 to February 1 next year. For the first time the Asian Cup will be expanded to 24 teams instead of 16 needing a 30-day window to conduct the competition at eight different venues across the country.
Under the new format, the finalists will contest a group stage consisting of six groups of four teams each, followed by a knockout stage of 16 teams. The UAE have already qualified as the hosts, while the remaining 23 teams will be determined from among the other 45 national teams through a qualifying competition that is scheduled to conclude on March 27, 2018.
In addition, the UAE will also be hosting the Fifa Club World Cup from December 12-22. Besides that, the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) will revert to 14 teams instead of the current 12 teams, from next season. “On the one hand we will have two major international competitions and on the other we will have to deal with all domestic competitions that we normally host during a football season. And therein lies the challenge,” Abdul Hamid Al Mastaki, a member of the Technical Committee, UAE FA and PLC, told Gulf News.
“Besides that we have to also ensure that all competitions, whether the Asian Cup or the Fifa Club World Cup or our local league and tournaments are held to the highest levels and international standards that the UAE is known for,” he added.
Considering all these challenges, the Technical Committee has agreed upon tentative dates for domestic competitions next season. The Super Cup will be held in Egypt either on August 17 or a week later on August 24 depending on the involvement of the teams in the 2018 AFC Asian Champions League. The first round of the AGL will kick off on August 30 and 31, while the final round of league matches will be held in the middle of May.
Clubs in the UAE have raised concerns that they would be unable to keep their players motivated over a long period of 45 days when the two international competitions are being held [from mid-December to end of January]. “In view of this, there is a proposal from some of the clubs that we organise smaller competitions such as the knockout stages of the Arabian Gulf Cup during January. But we have asked them to put this proposal before their respective managements and get back to us by early next week,” Al Mastaki said.
“Another aspect that came across strongly is whether we need to play the league matches only on the weekends [Friday-Saturday] or spread each round out over three days. This will largely depend on our teams’ involvement in the Asian Champions League. We have been in consultation with the clubs and we have asked them to give us constructive feedback so that we can best serve the interests of football in the UAE,” he added.