The United Arab Emirates are bidding to become the eighth nation to win the title on home soil.
With the AFC Asian Cup 2019 fast approaching, certain favourites have already been lined up. The likes of South Korea, Japan and Australia are expected to be front-runners to go all the way. However, because of the unpredictable weather conditions in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), things could get messy for these countries who aren’t adept to the Western Asia climate that well.
While the UAE might be perceived to have a typically Asiatic climate which has uncomfortable heat for most of the year, it’s rather pleasant out there at this time. Dubai, the city which will host the most important matches, will stay at around 17 or 18 degree Celsius during the vast period of the tournament. Al Ain and Sharjah, two other prominent venues, will be a degree or two colder on most days.
It might be the perfect conditions to play football, but just pleasant weather isn’t going to help the travelling teams. As history suggests, West Asian countries have thrived playing in their own part of the world. However, East Asian nations like Japan and South Korea can’t really say the same. As a matter of fact, the last time the Asian Cup was played in the UAE in 1996, both these teams struggled. Japan and Korea were both knocked out in the quarterfinals, South Korea by a west Asian country in Iran.
The Blue Samurai could be four-time Asian Cup champions (the most for any country), but don’t have the best of records against their West Asian foes. They’ve lost six times out of 20 against the UAE and nine out of 20 against Iran. Similarly, South Korea have lost 15 times to Iran in 34 meetings and six times to Saudi Arabia in 18. Australia also have a dodgy record against Iran, having lost thrice in seven meetings.
The West Asian teams like Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia have built dominance in and around their home. Hosts UAE also possess a stark home record and reached the final of the Asian Cup, when it last took place at the country in 1996. Their neighbours come into the tournament high in confidence. Having known all about the surroundings, they know what it takes to excel in this environment.
The same, however, cannot be said about the other heavyweights. Not only will unfamiliar grounds around the country be a thorn in their side, but the uncompromising fans of the UAE also will not make their lives any easier. Japan and Saudi Arabia for one, have never enjoyed playing in West Asia due to the different culture, conditions and pressure they get from their opposition.
Australia are also heading into the tournament with a relatively inexperienced team, who’ve barely played in the UAE. The pressure of the situation could also get to their youngsters and result in a breakdown against stiff opposition. Another advantage for neighbouring countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran is that their fans can travel in packs in order to rally the troops.
It’ll be foolish to think perfect weather can mean a perfect tournament for the Asian heavyweights. The difficult environment of the UAE along with the unforgiving fanbase can take a mental and physical toll on the players. With the countries from the region well-accustomed to the system of the hosts, it’ll be a mighty task for even the big guns to rattle them.