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Kuala Lumpur: Today we conclude our profiles of some of the Great Grounds of Asia with a look at one that will have all eyes on it in the coming years, the host of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup final: Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium.

This iconic venue in the capital of the United Arab Emirates will come full circle in two years’ time when it welcomes the climax of the AFC’s marquee tournament, having been the setting for the final of the 1996 AFC Asian Cup.

With both a history that goes back over 37 years and a recent renovation, the Zayed Sports City Stadium combines heritage with modernity and, with one of Asia’s biggest competitions on the horizon, it is the perfect place to end our series.


Overview

Zayed Sports City Stadium is a traditional, open-air stadium that is defined on its exterior by iconic arches. Within the stadium is a full-size football pitch and a wide concrete apron surrounds it.

There are 42,355 general entry seats on two levels plus 1,436 hospitality seats and 277 media seats.

Surrounding the stadium is a pre-event plaza, then a series of fountains. Beyond this is the ring road, parking lots, training pitches and the rest of the Zayed Sports City facilities

The venue is used by the UAE national team and as a regular host of the President’s Cup Final and FIFA Club World Cup.

In addition to the stadium there is a 5,000-seat tennis stadium, 26,340-plus sqm outdoor festival space, Olympic-sized ice rink with seating for 1,280, bowling centre for over 1,000 people and a 1,000-guest event dome.


History

Under the directions of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, the plans were set in motion for the construction of the Zayed Sports City Stadium in 1974 and, six years later, the venue was inaugurated in January 1980 with 60,000-capacity.

After its opening, Zayed Sport City Stadium would host a series of high profile competitions throughout the next decade including the 1982 Gulf Cup, the 1985 AFC Under-19 Championship and Olympic and AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. 

After holding a second Gulf Cup in 1994, the stadium was granted its biggest tournament to date when the UAE earned the right to host the 1996 AFC Asian Cup for the first time, and the Zayed Sports City Stadium was the venue for the climax where Saudi Arabia defeated the hosts.

Since then, the FIFA Under-20 World Cup and FIFA World Club Cups have all graced the ground before it underwent a major renovation in 2009, reducing capacity to 43,000, and since 2015 had continued to be upgraded to ensure a more modern and functional facility.


A Match to Remember

With the 2019 AFC Asian Cup approaching in the not too distant future, it is no surprise that we rewind the clock back to the first time the prestigious event was hosted in the Emirates and the memorable final played at the Zayed Sports City Stadium.

With hosts UAE defeating Kuwait 1-0 in the semi-final to meet Saudi Arabia, victors over Islamic Republic of Iran, in the climax of the event the stadium saw 60,000 fans pack the stands.

In an evenly-matched encounter, neither side were able to make a breakthrough in the score line after 120 minutes’ play, and the tie went to a penalty shoot-out.

Yousef Saleh and Ibrahim Al Harbi failed to convert for either side before Hassan Saeed missed for the Emiratis and Khalid Al Muwallid stepped up to slot home and secure Saudi Arabia’s third AFC Asian Cup title.

Photos: Lagardère Sports

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