Five stars set to shine at the Asian Cup

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Son, Beiranvand and Al-Dawsari are just three players to watch out for at this month's Asian Cup. (AFP)
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Updated 03 January 2019
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Five stars set to shine at the Asian Cup

  • Tottenham's man of the moment Son set to swap Premier League action for an Asian Cup title tilt with South Korea
  • Expanded tournament to see 24 teams battle it out for continental glory in the UAE.

LONDON: We are just two days away from the big kick-off when hosts the UAE open their campaign against Gulf rivals Bahrain. It is set to be the biggest Asian Cup yet with as many as 24 teams taking part, of which seven will feel that they have a decent chance of ultimate glory.
Here we take a look at five players to watch out for over the next few weeks of footballing action in the Emirates.

OMAR AL-SOMA — SYRIA

Saudi Arabian football fans will be only too aware of what the star striker is capable of having seen him top the Saudi Pro League scoring charts for three seasons from 2015. The Al-Ahli man will be key to Syria’s chances of going deep in the UAE. They came so close to qualifying for last year’s World Cup and will be keen to make an impression over the next month. In a group with one of the big favorites Australia, Palestine and dark horses Lebanon, the Syrians will need Al-Soma to be at his best.



SHOYA NAKAJIMA — JAPAN

The Blue Samurai are perennial favorites to lift the trophy — they have won a record four Asian Cup titles. This year they head into the tournament once again as the team to beat. A lot is expected of the Nakajima, the 24-year-old one of a wave of young guns looking to drive Japan to glory in the UAE. The midfielder made his debut only last March but has impressed since and will look to be the creative spark around which the Blue Samurai can slice opposition defenses apart.



SON HEUNG-MIN — SOUTH KOREA

If there are three words that can encapsulate why the South Koreans are one of the big favorites to lift the trophy come Feb. 1 they are Son Heung-Min. The Tottenham player is in the form of his life at the moment, scoring 11 goals in his past 16 appearances for the London club. The hope for South Korea boss Paulo Bento is that Son can take that form into the side’s title tilt. If he does then it will take some performance to stop Son and Co. It is not just Son’s goals that will be important but also his creativity, during the same period he has scored 11 goals for Spurs he has also assisted five goals and been at the hub of everything good about a Tottenham side that when on song look as good as any in Europe.



ALIREZA BEIRANVAND — IRAN

While much has been made about Iran’s attacking threat, with players such as Sardar Azmoun and Alireza Jahanbakhsh to pose threats to opposition defenses, Iran’s key player could well be the big man at the back. Even though Team Melli exited last summer’s World Cup at the group stage Beiranvand was one of the best goalkeepers in Russia, saving a penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo being on of his many highlights. He was key in Persepolis making the final of last year’s Asian Champions League — where they were beaten by Kashima Antlers — and if he can have another standout tournament in the UAE expect Carlos Queiroz’s side to mount a title challenge.



SALEM AL-DAWSARI — SAUDI ARABIA

The Green Falcons have failed to progress beyond the group stage at the previous two Asian Cups and should they fall at the first hurdle this time around it will be a huge shock and failure. That they head into the tournament confident they can make a big impact is down in part to the presence of players such as Al-Dawsari. The Al-Hilal winger scored the winner in they side’s 2-1 win over Egypt at the World Cup — the side’s first win at the tournament since 1994. It was just reward for a campaign which saw the Green Falcons improve with every match and proved that in players such as Al-Dawsari there is a core group of young players who are learning all the time and getting better with every match. Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi wanted to use the World Cup success as a springboard to an Asian Cup title challenge, the form of Al-Dawsari will be key if one is to materialize.

 


Tazkarti ticketing platform draws criticism in Egypt ahead of Africa Cup of Nations

Updated 18 June 2019
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Tazkarti ticketing platform draws criticism in Egypt ahead of Africa Cup of Nations

  • Tazkarti will be the sole source of tickets for the tournament

CAIRO: Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) host country Egypt has launched an online ticketing platform called Tazkarti, which will be the sole source of tickets for the tournament, which begins June 22.

Its aim is to combat ticket touts and black market sales for the continent’s biggest football tournament, and to ensure that ticket prices remain fixed at the price decided by the AFCON organizing committee. It is also a measure of the steps Egypt is taking to ensure that the tournament passes peacefully. 

Football stadiums have been almost entirely empty since 2011 because of security issues after long-time President Hosni Mubarak stepped down following national protests in which football fans played a major role, resulting in violent, often lethal, clashes with police and between rival fans.

In 2012, Port Said stadium witnessed a riot that left 72 Al-Ahly supporters dead after a pitch invasion by Masri supporters at the end of a Premier League game. In 2015, 19 Zamalek fans were killed and 20 injured when police attempted to disperse large crowds making their way into a Cairo stadium to attend a Premier League game. 

Those were just two of several incidents that meant authorities imposed a ban on people attending football matches or severely restricted the number of people that could do so.

Every AFCON ticket purchased via Tazkarti will be scanned at the stadium to ensure it matches the holder’s “Fan ID.” If it does not, the holder will not be allowed into the ground.

Tickets for matches featuring the Egyptian national team range from 200 to 2,500 Egyptian pounds ($12-$150), while other matches range from 100 to 500 Egyptian pounds ($6 to $30).

While those prices might sound affordable to outsiders, in a country where a doctor earns around $90 to $179 per month, many have found themselves priced out of the tournament already.

“I am a married dentist with three kids. If I want to attend a match with my family, I would have to pay 1,000 pounds ($60), (not including) transportation and snacks,” Dr. M. Sheta, who lives in Damietta, told Arab News.

“To book a cinema ticket nowadays ranges between 70 and 100 pounds and a good meal costs 100 pounds minimum. If I can afford that, then I can afford AFCON tickets,” said a housewife in Mansoura, who asked to remain anonymous.

Plenty of young Egyptians took to social media to express their displeasure with the ticket prices.

“This is a clear message that middle-class Egyptians are not welcome,” said Ahmed Zahran.

“I would rather pay a total of 10 pounds at any coffee shop and watch the matches there,” said Ahmed El-Tlabanty.

Some fans believe that the prices have been set high to discourage Ultras (the most passionate football fans) from attending.

An administrator of the “Ultras Ahlawy” Facebook group, while stressing that he hoped supporters “have fun watching AFCON,” asked Arab News: “Why would I pay 200 pounds to watch a match? I do not (make hundreds of pounds).”

Aside from issues with the high prices, people have also been widely critical of the technical performance of the new ticketing platform, which has been under pressure from high demand for Fan IDs.

“You guys are so disrespectful and unprofessional. I’ve been trying to reach out for more than two weeks and no one is answering — not on messenger nor the hotline. You made the whole championship experience the worst,” wrote Fatma El-Dardiry. “I called your customer service at least five times, placed three complaints and texted you on Facebook more than once. Now, the tickets of cat 1 and 2 for the opening match have already sold out.”