Everyone really enjoyed the FIFA World Cup in Russia in 2018. How can the AFC Asian Cup follow on from this?
It’s Asia’s most prestigious football competition and will be the biggest and best-ever edition, with a record 24 teams competing for the Continent’s ultimate prize for the first time. At the forefront of the AFC’s ambitions is the desire to stage world-class competitions for our players, teams and passionate fans. It’s an unrivalled stage for the Continent’s brightest stars to shine and above all, enable us to engage and excite the largest football community on the planet.
You’ve tried to make this the most fan-friendly competition ever, too…
Fans are the lifeblood of football. Whether you are home supporters or travelling to the eight stadiums across the four cities – Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai and Sharjah – we want to establish the perfect stage for a tournament of a lifetime. The UAE is one of the most diverse nations in the Continent and the journey to engage fans has begun with the expansive Asian communities already living in the UAE. The ticketing structure has also been designed to enable as many people as possible to come and experience the tournament, and each venue has been carefully designed to ensure a true celebration and festival atmosphere for our fans – one that will showcase Asian football at its finest.
UAE staged the tournament 23 years ago. A lot has changed since then, hasn’t it?
Yes, just 12 teams qualified in 1996, and the fact that the competition has now doubled demonstrates how far Asian football has progressed. Each edition has strengthened the foundations for the next, and the AFC Asian Cup certainly mirrors the growth of football in Asia over the decades. In 2019 we are embracing modern technology for the first time too, with the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee system from the Quarter-final stage onwards.
What are you personally most looking forward to?
As the AFC President, I am also first and foremost a lifelong football fan, and I’m genuinely excited by the level of competition and intensity of our competing teams. Early signs indicate that we are poised to witness one of the most captivating and competitive tournaments to date and I am also looking forward to the enthusiasm that is being displayed all around the competition. As I have personally experienced at the recent FIFA Club World Cup, the UAE is a vibrant, diverse and breathtaking nation and I am confident fans will experience a memorable celebration.