UAE raise the bar with hosting of Asian Cup
The expansion from 16 to 24-team format and organisation of the tournament was hailed by top coaches
For past 28 days, the four cities of the UAE (Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai and Sharjah) were hotbed of footballing activities as the UAE successfully hosted the biggest-ever AFC Asian Cup with 24 teams and 51 matches.
The 17th Continental showpiece was a historic one where new talents were unearthed, records shattered and ended with a new champion.
The expansion from 16 to 24-team format and organisation of the tournament was hailed by top coaches - Marcello Lippi (China), Sven-Goran Eriksson (the Philippines), Alberto Zaccheroni (UAE) and Pim Verbeek (Oman).
Iraqi coach Srecko Katanec noted soon there will be more teams from Asia in the Fifa's top rankings. Pim Verbeek pointed out that the gap between big and small teams is reducing. Meanwhile, Iran coach Carlos Queiroz nailed it by saying there were no small teams left in Asia now.
The tournament was played in great harmony and each team expressed happiness about the hospitality, training grounds and facilities across the UAE.
For the UAE, the host nation, it was a very fruitful tournament in which they defeated teams like defending champions Australia, India and Kyrgyzstan. The 'Whites' showed great promise, which will help them in preparations for the 2022 World Cup.
There were many fiercely fought contests like the UAE-Australia, Iran-Iraq, Jordan-Vietnam, Australia-Syria etc. Jordan to their credit pulled a surprise result by upsetting defending champions Australia. Teams like Syria, Thailand, India and Turkmenistan, after being absent for a long spell, left their mark on the tournament. Also, debutants Yemen, Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines gave a good account of their football prowess.
Qatar, the eventual winners, beat four-time champion Japan and striker Almoez Ali created new record for most goals (9) by a player in a single Asian Cup.
There was also a first-ever use of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system from the quarterfinal stage. The biggest-ever Cup saw awesome response from fans too. As some 836 million fans interacted through the tournament's digital platforms breaking the 2015 edition record.
Also, the UAE-India match saw a turnout of more than 43,000 fans, which was the most-attended of this edition. Considering the sitting capacity of most stadiums, an average of more than 12,000 was a decent turnout for the matches.
AFC President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa praised the conduct of the tournament.
"The AFC decided to expand the tournament from 16 to 24 teams to provide more opportunities for our Member Associations to compete at the highest level and I am particularly pleased by the impact and legacy of the competition on our teams," he told AFC website.
He lauded the Local Organising Committee for a successful campaign. "I thank the Local Organising Committee for staging a memorable tournament - one that showcased Asia's undeniable talent and incredible passion for football."
Overall, it was a tournament which has showed that the country is capable to host even bigger tournaments.
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