What AFC Asian Cup Games can I watch today? Hosts UAE take on Bahrain after 2019 opening ceremony in Abu Dhabi
- Teams looking for a good start as they hope to go better than previous runners-up and fourth place finishes
- Strikers are the key men for both nations
More than 40,000 football fans will be in attendance in Abu Dhabi’s to watch the hosts kick off and they are more than likely going to be backing the home team.
Bahrain is the smallest nation at this 24-team Asian Cup but they have an illustrious history at the competition with a best finish of fourth in China in 2004.
The only survivor from that is the goalkeeper Sayed Mohamed Jaffer. Now 32 and with over a century of appearances for his country, the stopper was just 18 when the country lost to eventual winners Japan in China.
— #AsianCup2019 (@afcasiancup) 27 December 2018
This year’s main man is at the other end of the pitch: centre-forward Abdulla Yusuf Helal.
The only overseas-based player in the squad, the rangy striker plays in Europe for Czech side Bohemians. He caught the eye for the Prague-based outfit with five goals this season since, including on his debut, accounting for almost a third of the struggling side’s goals this season.
His highlights include a brace against FK Teplice, one of which was an improvised flick.
While his club will miss him, Bahrain pin their hopes on Helal, who has three international goals.
The hosts are the heavy favourites, priced at $1.7 compared to $7 for a surprise win. The draw is $3.84. Opening games so often go the way of the hosts but as Russia 2018 proved, there could still be a surprise on the day such as Saudi Arabia getting hit for six.
Fifa’s rankings also have it going to the UAE side, who are ranked 79th compared to Bahrain’s 113th.
Runners-up at the 1996 Asian Cup, when it was hosted in the United Arab Emirates.
The hosts would take history repeating itself this time out or even another third-place finish like in Australia four years ago.
If they do go that far then that would bring up a century of caps for midfielder Ismail Al Hammadi but it is further forward that could be key to such a run.
At 28, striker Ali Mabkhout is still banging in the goals – he also has the record for fastest ever Asian Cup finals strike at a barely believable 14 seconds.
Former Japan manager Alberto Zacheroni, who also managed both Milan sides, will look to get the best out of the UAE Pro League’s all-time top scorer and strike parter Ahmed Khalil.
They will also hope they can do it all without Omar Abdulrahman as their playmaker misses the tournament through injury.
You can catch all of the action after the opening ceremony in Abu Dhabi from 11.30pm on Fox Sports Asia (channel 670). Kick-off at Zayed Sports City is midnight.