Football Association considering allowing spectators at 2022 World Cup qualifiers in Dubai after success of President’s Cup final

UAE to host all eight remaining Group G matches in second round of qualification

The Football Association has labelled the return of fans at the President’s Cup final on Sunday a success, with the governing body now assessing whether to allow spectators to attend next month’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers in Dubai.

A limited amount of fans were permitted to be present at the showpiece fixture in UAE football, at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, marking the first time spectators could attend a professional game in the Emirates since February last year.

Since then, matches had been played behind closed doors to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. Only fully vaccinated spectators were allowed entry on Sunday, where Shabab Al Ahli defeated Dubai rivals Al Nasr 2-1.

“It was a success. Everything was fine," Mohammed Hazzam Al Dhaheri, the FA general secretary, told The National. "Entry into and exit from the stadium, and the fan experience inside, was perfect. We did not have any situation; it went very well."

For the final, the FA offered free PCR tests prior to the match, while also providing free meals and water inside to restrict fan movement. Face masks were mandatory, with seats sanitised before entry. Al Dhaheri said the event could not have taken place without the support of the Abu Dhabi Health Authority, the police, the stadium staff and the FA staff.

Next month, Dubai will host all eight remaining matches in Group G in the second round of qualification for Qatar 2022 after the UAE was chosen by the Asian Football Confederation as one of their centralised venues.

The programme includes four UAE fixtures, beginning against Malaysia on June 3 and concluding with what promises to be a crucial encounter against group leaders Vietnam on June 15. The national team, training together in Dubai, sit fourth in Group G, five points off Vietnam, although they do have a game in hand.

The FA will use Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss fans returning for the qualifiers, with a decision taken later in conjunction with the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority and other relevant authorities.

Al Dhaheri said: "We’re evaluating today and tomorrow, and we’re still having internal meetings to look at the situation for fans coming back for the qualifiers.

“Then our reports are sent back to the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority, so they can be aware of every step that we’re taking. And if we get their approval, yes we go ahead.”

Al Dhaheri said the FA is ready to both welcome and host the four other teams in Group G, with Thailand the first to arrive later this week. Matches will be staged at Al Wasl’s Zabeel Stadium and Nasr’s Al Maktoum Stadium.

After Malaysia, the UAE face Thailand on June 7 and Indonesia four days later, before concluding the group against Vietnam. Only group winners are guaranteed to progress to the third and final round of qualification, alongside the four best runners-up from the eight pools.

Updated: May 18, 2021 09:54 PM

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