Asian Cup: Empty stadiums and poor facilities under the spotlight

As the Asian Cup takes a short break before the quarterfinals begin on Thursday, attention is being turned to the swathes of empty seats across the stadiums in the UAE.

“I personally think the atmosphere of the Asian Cup could be a little more enthusiastic, more exciting,” Iran boss Carlos Queiroz told reporters recently.

“To be honest not only me but the Chinese, everyone, has been talking about it. (They) expected much better and a more enthusiastic atmosphere all over the country and at all the stadiums,” added the former Real Madrid boss.

Despite the tournament’s slogan reading: “Bringing Asia together”, the 2019 tournament has failed to draw crowds. 

Dwindling numbers

Queiroz’ side impressed at World Cup 2018 and look one of the teams to beat this month, but barely 5,000 watched them thrash Yemen 5-0 in their opening game at Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed bin Zayed stadium, which holds 40,000.

Fans have been notable by their absence at the tournament (picture-alliance/ZUMAPRESS/CMS/U. Pedersen)

Fans have been notable by their absence at the tournament

Worse still, only about a thousand turned up for last 16 games involving defending champions Australia and Asian superpower Japan, in theory two of the competition’s bigger draws, while even hosts UAE have played at half-empty grounds. Some fans have even claimed they have been asked by Asian Cup officials to leave their allotted areas to fill seats directly opposite the television cameras.

“We were expecting a bigger turnout,” Mohammed Khalfan Al Romaithi, chairman of the UAE General Authority for Sports, told press agency AFP.

“We are surprised by the lack of UAE fans too,” he admitted in an interview. “This is a culture that I hope will change. Loyalty must always be there, win or lose.”. 

A number of issues

But the complaints haven’t stopped at the lack of atmosphere. Teams have complained of poor facilities, with one from the Middle East accusing organisers of “cultural insensitivity” for suggesting their players use the hotel pool to aid their recovery despite the presence of bikini-clad holiday makers.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz has been unimpressed by the atmosphere at the Asian Cup (Getty Images/F. Nel)

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz has been unimpressed by the atmosphere at the Asian Cup

Politics, perhaps unsurpisingly, has also played a part. Qatar’s 6-0 demolition of North Korea was watched by just a 452 people in Al-Ain, with the long-running blockade of the Gulf state by its neighbours cited as the reason for the poor attendance.

UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni, rather strangely, blamed “cold weather” for another disappointing turnout while Oman coach Pim Verbeek has complained of being unable to watch games on TV, the matches are all on pay TV channel beIN Sports.

Some have questioned what impact these issues will have on Gianni Infantino’s wish for an expanded World Cup 2022. In order to host 48 teams, Qatar would likely have to rely on the support of the UAE. 

  • AFC Asian Cup: Japan vs Oman (picture-allianceJapan und en /dpa/imaginechina/L. Shanze)

    The Asian Cup in pictures

    Flying feet

    Breakdancing in Abu Dhabi! Well not quite… The winner of this particular duel was the man with one foot on the ground, Japan’s Wataru Endo. Japan beat Oman in this Group F match to book their ticket to the knockout phase.

  • AFC Asian Cup - Japanische Fans (picture-alliance/dpa/Imaginechina/L. Shanze)

    The Asian Cup in pictures

    The journey continues

    The Japanese fans were in a festive mood as they cheered their team on to victory. They will be hoping for the Samurai Blue to advance far beyond the round of 16, where their journey ended at the World Cup in Russia last summer. Who knows? Maybe Japan can even add to their record four Asian Cup titles.

  • AFC Asian Cup - Vietnam vs Iran (Getty Images/F. Nel)

    The Asian Cup in pictures

    Clear winner

    Mahdi Taremi of Iran clearly came out on top in this battle for the ball against Vietnam’s Pham Duc Huy. Following their 2-0 win over Vietnam, their second in their first two matches, Iran too are through to the knockout phase as they strive for a third Asian Cup trophy.

  • AFC Asian Cup - Iran vs Yemen (Getty Images/AFP/K. Desouki)

    The Asian Cup in pictures

    Catching a live game

    Just as they did at last summer’s World Cup in Russia, a number of female Iranian fans have taken the opportunity to watch their team live. A stadium ban, which was briefly lifted and then reinstated, means they can’t do so at home.

  • AFC Asian Cup - Libanon Saudi Arabien (Getty Images/AFP/G. Cacace)

    The Asian Cup in pictures

    A good omen?

    Lebanese goalkeeper Mehdi Khalil managed to stop this one, but he was twice beaten by Saudi Arabia for a 2-0 final score. This is just the second time that the Saudis have won both of their first matches. The last time they did this – in 1966 – they won the whole thing. Then too, the tournament was hosted by the United Arab Emirates.

  • AFC Asian Cup - Saudi Arabien vs Libanon (Getty Images/AFP/K. Desouki)

    The Asian Cup in pictures

    Penalty area battle

    Lebanon may have failed to score in their first two matches, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. It may not look like it, but Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais actually game out on top here, even if he didn’t manage to punch the ball clear. A clean sheet is a clean sheet.

  • AFC Asian Cup - China v Phillipinen (Getty Images/AFP/K. Desouki)

    The Asian Cup in pictures

    Little fan, big win

    China also opened their Asian Cup campaign with two wins, beating the Kyrgyz Republic 2-1 and blanking the Philippines 3-0. This young Chinese fan clearly approves!

  • AFC Asian Cup - Oman v Japan (Reuters/S. Salem)

    The Asian Cup in pictures

    Heading home

    Oman failed to earn a point from their first two matches, making their third academic. That means this fan will be headed home early, despite his best efforts to inspire his team though fancy dressing.

    Author: Stefan Nestler, Chuck Penfold

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