88 underprivileged children from across the United Arab Emirates won the opportunity to become official player escorts at the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 (5 January to 1 February 2019) courtesy of Continental, the premium tyre and automotive manufacturer and official sponsor of the tournament, and the Emirates Red Crescent.
In a special football-themed challenge held at the Zabeel Stadium complex in Dubai, home of Al Wasl FC, more than 150 youngsters aged between six and nine years old participated in the competition win a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the forthcoming championship from a totally unique vantage point.
The children’s excitement was heightened by the involvement of several of the UAE’s best-known footballers, including Al Wasl star Abdullah Saleh Al Junaibi, who helped launch the campaign by Continental and Emirates Red Crescent, former UAE and Al Ahli forward, Faisal Khalil, and current UAE national football team stars Khamis Esmaeel (Al Wasl FC), Ahmed Al Yassi (Al Nasr FC) and Tareq Ahmed (Al Nasr FC).
Marking the ‘Year of Zayed’ in the UAE, the Emirates Red Crescent selected the participating boys and girls from a list of families in the UAE who are registered with them for support. To narrow down the shortlist, each child was provided with their own ball which the footballers then took turns to try to hit through two openings in the Continental Challenge Wall. The balls that successfully passed through the target openings were used to select the final 88.
Of the selected 88 children, 22 will participate at the Final itself, to be held at Zayed Sports City Stadium on 1 February 2019. The remaining winners will act as mascots at three first round matches featuring the national teams of the Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Qatar, where they will walk out hand-in-hand with some of the region’s leading players.
UAE and Al Wasl midfielder, Khamis Esmaeel, commented, “So much of football is about trying to make dreams come true. 22 of the children here today can now look forward to walking out at the Zayed Sports City Stadium for the Final on 1 February. For me, and the rest of the UAE national team, we now need to realize our own dreams and do the best we can to join them.”
Former UAE and Al Ahli star, Faisal Khalil, said, “It has been a real privilege to be here today and see the smiles and joy that this campaign is bringing to so many children. Football has an amazing way of bringing happiness and excitement into people’s lives, and it is great that Continental is using its sponsorship of the championship in such a positive way.”
Overseeing the event were Ricardo Martins, Head of Marketing at Continental Middle East, and Abdullah Al Haj Al Zarooni, Director of the Emirates Red Crescent – Dubai branch who has been instrumental in making this opportunity happen. The event was also attended by delegates from the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, Al Wasl FC and Al Nasr FC who played a key role in supporting this initiative.
Commenting on the occasion, Ahmed Al Qubaisi, Director of Marketing and Communication, Local Organizing Committee, said, “Football belongs to all. Through the generosity of partners like Continental Tyres, we are happy to bring the game to those who has never before have the chance to enjoy world-class competition or meet players live in person.”
In addition to being the Official Sponsor of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, Continental has been associated with football for many years, with its first foray into the field in the early 1990s. The brand’s involvement with supporting football tournaments and teams has included the FIFA World Cup, the UEFA Champions League (1995-2000), the UEFA European Championship (2008, 2012 and 2016) and Major League Soccer in the United States and Canada. It also sponsored both the 15th and 16th editions of the AFC Asian Football Cups in 2011 and 2015 which were hosted in Qatar and Australia respectively.