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Biggest Asian Cup set for kick off in UAE

Australia will be among a record 24 nations competing at the Asian Cup in the UAE, which kicks off on Saturday when the host nation faces local rivals Bahrain.

Biggest Asian Cup set for kick off in UAE

Australia will be among a record 24 nations competing at the Asian Cup in the UAE, which kicks off on Saturday when the host nation faces local rivals Bahrain.

MILE JEDINAK in action during an Australian Socceroos training at Arasen Stadion in Oslo, Norway.
MILE JEDINAK in action during an Australian Socceroos training at Arasen Stadion in Oslo, Norway. Picture:Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

More nations, the introduction of VAR, regional rivalries and one global superstar headline the 17th Asian Cup which gets underway in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday.

The Asian championship kicks off in Abu Dhabi with the host nation facing rivals Bahrain in a Gulf state derby.


Australia, the defending champions embarking on a new era following the retirements of Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak and under the guidance of new coach Graham Arnold, begin their campaign in Al Ain on Sunday against Jordan.

The Socceroos' other opponents will be Palestine and Syria, two nations who have achieved football success in recent years despite extensive unrest in their respective home nations.

In total 24 nations will compete in a competition that has doubled in size since the last time the UAE hosted the tournament in 1996.

That event, won by Saudi Arabia, boasted 12 teams in 26 matches across three venues.

This month eight venues in four cities - Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain and Sharjah - will host 51 matches.

"It's wonderful that the tournament's here," said Australia captain Mark Milligan, who spent time at Abu Dhabi-based club Baniyas between 2015 and 2017.

"They are passionate as a country about their football and they have some very nice stadiums ... the facilities are always wonderful."

The tournament favourites are Iran, who are under the experienced gaze of former Real Madrid coach Carlos Queiroz.

Team Melli haven't won the Asian Cup since 1976 but are the top-ranked team in the continent and arrive in the UAE with a settled and experienced team.

Their group stage clash with neighbours Iraq is one of the matches of the opening round given the history between the two countries and Iraq's quarter-final defeat of Iran in the previous edition of the tournament in Australia in 2015.

Queiroz is one of several high-profile coaches at the tournament.

Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning boss Marcelo Lippi has been charged with realising China's ambition to become a football powerhouse while former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson leads the Philippines who are making their Asian Cup debut.

The one genuine footballing superstar at the tournament will be South Korea's in-form Tottenham forward Son Heung-min.

The 26-year-old, who has scored eight goals and has five assists in his last nine EPL appearances, won't appear until the Taeguk Warriors' third match.

But with that fixture being a tantalising Group C clash with China, it's sure to be a eye-catching start to his tournament.

Another intriguing group stage match is Saudi Arabia's clash with a Qatar team desperate to prove their credentials ahead of hosting the 2022 World Cup.

Despite the enticing fixtures, some doubts remain about the interest levels for the tournament in the UAE.

Matches featuring west Asian countries are expected to be well-attended, particularly given Saudi Arabia and Oman share land borders with the UAE.

However, despite signs outside venues promoting tickets for as little as AED25 ($A9.75), it remains unclear how well other fixtures will be attended.

Another unknown will be the impact of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) which will be introduced in an Asian Cup for the first time from the quarter-finals onward.

The system, which appeared at a World Cup for the first time last year in Russia, will be used in four distinct match situations - goal or no goal, penalty-kicks, direct red cards and mistaken identity decisions.

AAP


AAP




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