In the eagerly anticipated kickoff of the AFC Asian Cup, the UAE national football team, under the guidance of coach Paulo Bento, is poised to script a compelling chapter in their history. Their quest for the tournament trophy has never been more resolute, with memories of their 1996 final appearance fueling the determination of the new-look Sons of Zayed squad.

Ali Mabkhout UAE National Team

This Sunday, the Khalifa International Stadium in Al Rayyan will be the battleground as the UAE opens their campaign against Hong Kong in Group C, sharing the stage with formidable opponents Iran and Palestine, who will also clash at the Education City Stadium. It’s a challenging group, but the UAE, despite their penalty shootout heartbreak in 1996, enters the tournament with optimism and a fresh perspective.

Leading the charge for the UAE is the talismanic Ali Mabkhout, Al Jazira’s 33-year-old striker and the country’s all-time leading scorer. Mabkhout’s goal-scoring prowess, showcased with five goals in the 2015 Asian Cup, positions him as a key player to watch. His quest to deliver a stand-out performance is heightened by the ambition to secure a historic triumph for the nation.

History, too, smiles on the UAE as they reminisce about their successful Asian qualifying playoffs against Hong Kong in 2015, winning both home and away matches convincingly.

Coach Paulo Bento, the former Portugal international, has played a pivotal role in rejuvenating the team since taking the helm in July 2023. A six-game winning streak displayed their resurgence, although a recent friendly loss to Oman has added an element of challenge. Nevertheless, the team is determined to showcase their strength and strategy against Hong Kong.

Paulo Bento UAE National DT

On the other side, Hong Kong enters the Asian Cup after a 55-year hiatus, acknowledging the substantial gap in quality compared to the continent’s footballing elite. Coach Jorn Andersen emphasizes a measured approach, recognizing the learning experience for his team. Goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai echoes this sentiment, highlighting the team’s intent to enjoy the competition while aiming for commendable performances and results.

As the UAE and Hong Kong clash in this historic opener, the footballing world eagerly awaits to witness the unfolding drama at the Khalifa International Stadium. The tournament’s Group C promises intense battles, with the UAE aiming to set the stage alight and embark on a journey towards Asian Cup glory.