Kurt Ganapathy heads to Abu Dhabi and Dubai to soak up the atmosphere of the Asian Football Confederation tournament.

Where once there were 16 teams, there were now 24 – the 2019 edition of the AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates has featured just over half of the Asian Football Confederation’s member associations.

Singapore missed out on the party, but three of our Southeast Asian neighbours made the cut: long-time regional powerhouse Thailand, recently crowned Suzuki Cup champs Vietnam and rising force the Philippines.

Thailand and Vietnam would both reach the knockout stages of the tournament. The Philippines, making their Asian Cup debut, would lose all their matches, but the Azkals managed to notch a consolation goal near the end of their campaign.

The slogan for this Asian Cup was “Bringing Asia Together” – fitting considering it’s the biggest Asian Cup ever, but even more fitting because the UAE has long done just that.

At the games we attended – India vs UAE, Philippines vs China and Lebanon vs Saudi Arabia – we saw a home nation revel in its unique place in the world, and we saw some of the country’s biggest immigrant groups come out to play and create home crowds of their own.

The Asian Cup continues until 1 February 2019.

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