Some of the greatest names in Asian football have given young footballers living in the UAE a thrill of the lifetime by hosting a special skills clinic in Dubai to help celebrate the draw for the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 and kick-start a new exciting phase in the tournament’s preparations.
Children from the Indian, Chinese and Thai communities enjoyed a special surprise as they came face to face with their own national heroes who dropped in for the unique event hosted by the tournament’s Local Organising Committee (LOC).
The occasion perfectly embodied the spirit of the competition and brought to life the tournament theme of ‘Bringing Asia Together’. The event saw current captain of India, Sunil Chhetri, China’s former national great Sun Jihai and Thai legend Pipat Thonkanya join forces to showcase their talents to the young fans.
To their delight the children got to go far beyond watching on or securing precious autographs as the legends encouraged the youngsters to take part in an AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Crossbar challenge and skills demo before posing for photographs beneath the iconic Burj Khalifa, Dubai.
Aref Hamed Al Awani, Tournament Director, of the Local Organising Committee said: “Already young dreams are coming true and the next generation inspired. That’s our mission and we hope the impact goes beyond football. We want to excite and embrace each community living in the UAE and unite them through this beautiful game.
“We are blessed to have such a diverse nation but this tournament has the power to connect us all. You just have to look at the smiles on faces and feel the energy created by bringing people together through football to know this tournament is going to be very special. For these children their countdown to the January 5 has already started and we hope that excitement will spread across the country.”
India’s current captain Sunil Chhetri, added: “This tournament is massive. Yes, it’s good for everyone in Asia to have the best 24 countries playing each other, but especially for India. The game is really growing and just qualifying for big tournaments like this means everything. It could also feel like a ‘home’ tournament if the Indian community in the UAE come out in numbers and support us. But any fan who loves the game can support India! We promise to put on a show.”
An expanded tournament format for 2019 will witness the best 24 national teams from Asia participate in AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 making it the largest AFC Asian Cup to ever be staged and biggest sporting event hosted in the UAE. Fifty-one matches will be played between January 5 and February 1, 2019 in 8 stadiums located in three cities across three Emirates. The final draw took place on May 4, 2019, with each group offering some tremendous ties.
China’s Sun Jihai added: “Football really is the number one sport in the world. It connects people and countries like no other. Just look at how it’s brought these children together and helped create new friendships. Recently China has invested a lot into football and we are improving. Perhaps in the future we can win a championship like the AFC Asian Cup, but we need our fans to support us. Anyone who loves football in China should come to the UAE. The fans are part of our squad. We need their fighting spirit and support to help our performances.”
Thai legend Pipat Thonkanya commented: “For the first time young children in Thailand want to grow up and become professional footballers. That is very exciting. So as a team we need to play on the biggest stage in Asian football, to inspire more to follow in our footsteps.”