The 2019 AFC Asian Cup has been labelled as the “jewel in the crown” of the UAE’s 2018-2019 sporting calendar by Aref Al Awani, secretary general of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council.
“We have several high-profile sporting events lined up for the season but the AFC Asian Cup is the jewel in the crown,” he said at the ceremonial of the 100-day countdown of the event adjoining the IPIC Arena at the Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
The event starts on January 5 and is the biggest in the tournament's history, with 24 sides competing, including the UAE as hosts.
“It is an honour for the UAE to be welcoming so many nations and fans from Asia for the biggest-ever AFC Asian Cup," added Al Awani.
“The UAE is home to almost 200 different nationalities, so it is the perfect opportunity for football enthusiasts to come support their nation and catch world-class competition live across four different host cities.”
Al Awani, who is also the Local Organising Committee tournament director, was joined by the two-time AFC Asian Cup winner and three-time AFC Player of the Year, Majed Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and delegates from each of the 24 competing nations to mark the 100-day countdown.
“Today, we celebrate another historic moment in the glorious journey of the Asian Cup – the 100-day countdown to the best and biggest-ever tournament to date,” said Dato Windsor John, the AFC general secretary.
“With the expansion to 24 competing nations, I am confident that we will write a new chapter and usher a new era of success for Asian football.
“It’s the first time we are fielding 24 teams and for the first time we have a prize money, and for us, it’s a very exciting time to improve football in Asia.
The UAE hosted the continental championship most recently in 1996, and
Majed Abdullah said the Asian Cup has given him some of his best footballing memories of his career.
“A tournament on this scale brings people together like nothing else,” said Abdullah.
“With 24 teams, fans around the world will have a chance to see not only the perennial powers, but the rising nations and young stars who will raise the level of Asian football to the next level.”