A Premier League standard stadium, Middle Eastern culture and stunning views are what the Caltex Socceroos and Aussie fans can expect during the forthcoming AFC Asian Cup in the UAE.
Socceroos.com.au spoke to two journalists from a couple of the leading newspapers in the country to get their take on the build-up to the tournament, which gets underway this weekend.
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The Caltex Socceroos open their campaign on Sunday night at 10pm (AEDT) when they take on Jordan at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain.
Anticipation building in the UAE
The Caltex Socceroos were treated to a rousing welcome when they touched down in Al Ain on Wednesday, indicative of the celebratory atmosphere in the country ahead of the tournament.
“The build-up for the Asian Cup in the UAE has been fantastic. We’re at fever pitch now,” said Ashley Hammond, a senior reporter with the Gulf News newspaper.
“We’ve just had the Club World Cup, which Real Madrid won in Abu Dhabi so there’s a real enthusiasm for football at the moment and we’re all just waiting for the main event which is, of course, the Asian Cup.
“There’s so many nationalities in the UAE so everyone will be here with a team to support.”
Caltex Socceroos’ Group B venues
Australia’s Group B fixtures will be played at three different venues, starting with the Jordan clash at the spectacular Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain.
“It’s a Premier League standard ground. It’s a 25,000 capacity and it’s been tested out at two Club World Cups now,” said Matt Monaghan, a journalist at Sport360 newspaper.
“It looks fantastic, it works fantastic and every team that comes here absolutely loves it.
“Man City has been here a few times, it’s worked really well. Anyone who goes there is in for a real treat it must be one of the top stadiums in Asia.”
Hammond said of the Rashid Stadium in Al Ahli, where the Caltex Socceroos take on Palestine: “It’s like an old school stadium.
“It’s the main stadium of one of the top teams here in the UAE. It has good metro access. It will be easier if you are staying in Dubai, as an Australia fan, it’s easy to come and go, so it’s got that accessibility about it and a homely feel as well.
Immersing in the local culture
While the football will be the main attraction, there is plenty to do in the UAE on the days where the Caltex Socceroos aren’t in action.
“My top tip for fans coming out here, if you want to have a real taste of Middle Eastern life, is get yourself to Deira, get yourself to the Gold Souk,” Monaghan said.
“It’s crazy there but it’s a taste of what the Middle East can be like and if you want to go high end you can go to Dubai Mall and shop to your heart's content.”
Hammond added: “For Australian fans that are coming to the UAE and really want to get a taste of the culture here, I suggest they go to the grand mosque in Abu Dhabi, it really is something to see.
“It’s relatively new, I think it’s been built in the last five years but it’s really beautiful.”