Tournament organizers of the 2019 Asian Cup spoke about peace and tolerance as they announced the release of tickets for the tournament which will be played early next year in the UAE.
The 17th version of the Asian Cup – first played in Hong Kong in 1956 – will see the Emirates host for the second time, and Alberto Zaccheroni’s men will dream of emulating their ancestors, who stormed all the way to the final on home soil in 1996.
There, the dream ended, as they lost on penalties to Gulf neighbors Saudi Arabia. But the dream is just beginning for the current generation ahead of the tournament, which kicks off in Abu Dhabi on January 5, with the Whites opening the tournament against Bahrain.
Speaking on Thursday at the launch of tickets for the Asian Cup at Zayed Sports City Stadium, which will host the opening game as well as the final, tournament director Aref Al Awani said: “The UAE, through its high mission which represents peace, tolerance, happiness, and openness, welcomes all teams and all nationals of the Asian continent to attend and watch this big continental event, which brings 24 teams together for the first time.
“This great participation is a big focus for us as it reflects the potential of the UAE and its great capabilities in organizing the biggest and most important global and continental sporting events.
“The announcement of the general ticket sale is a proof that the countdown has started, and preparations are on the right path.”
The Whites will feature in Group A, which also houses Thailand and India.
The Green Falcons, who featured at this summer’s World Cup, will face Lebanon, North Korea and Qatar in Group E.
And Asian Cup organizers say they do not envision any problems arising from the Qatari national team’s participation in the tournament.
The UAE, Saudi, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic relations with Qatar in June 2017 over its support for extremist groups.
“Sport is not affected by politics,” said Al Awani.
“We don’t see any problem with that. We are welcoming all countries. The Qatar national team can attend, we have this experience with them in the AFC Champions League. Whatever happens there, we can prove they’ve been here. Everyone saw that in the Champions League tournament.
“And everybody will see them, Inshallah, in January. Qatari fans will be welcome. We are welcoming anyone to come and attend and participate.
“The only thing that will be different is that they will have to process through security and that is a normal thing for any country who doesn’t have a direct entry visa. It is normal. There are a lot of countries like that.”