DOHA: As the attention of world football descends upon Doha for a record third time in the history of the AFC Asian Cup™, the Asian Football Confederation president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has conveyed his best wishes to Asia’s top 24 teams and applauded the spirit of innovation and resilience exemplified by the Asian football family.

Ahead of Friday’s opener between defending champions Qatar and Lebanon at the iconic Lusail Stadium, Shaikh Salman said: “I know our teams, players and the hundreds of millions of passionate fans across the globe have been waiting eagerly and we are now in touching distance of hosting our best-ever men’s showpiece in Asian football history.

“On behalf of the AFC, I would like to wish our teams, players and officials the very best of success and I am confident that we will witness inspiring performances that will showcase the immeasurable progress of Asian football.”

Shaikh Salman took the opportunity to reflect on the exceptional journey undertaken since Qatar was appointed as the host in October 2022 and underlined his confidence in the immaculate capabilities of the Qatar Football Association and the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™ Local Organising Committee.

The AFC President added: “We are all aware that this is the shortest ever runway that we have had to organise the pinnacle stage of Asian men’s football. But in another remarkable display of Asian football unity, we have shown the world that we are ready to stage an exceptional tournament.

“And of course, so much of this has been made possible all thanks to our dear friends from the Qatar Football Association and the Local Organising Committee. Just over a year ago, Qatar hosted the greatest-ever edition of the FIFA World Cup and now the stage is set for the grandest ever AFC Asian Cup™ to date.”

Shaikh Salman was also quick to acknowledge the breakthrough innovations set to be introduced at Asia’s crown jewel with the AFC eAsian Cup scheduled to take place from 1 to 5 February, and the use of the Semi-Automated Offside Technology (SAOT) and Video Assistant Referee (VAR) systems across all 51 matches for the first time.

He added: “From the moment Qatar was appointed as the host, we knew that this would be the first AFC Asian Cup™ to be held in FIFA World Cup venues. We also appointed our women’s match officials to the Continent’s most prestigious men’s tournament for the first time.

“And now, with the introduction of the SAOT and full debut of the VAR systems, along with the inaugural AFC eAsian Cup, I am delighted to declare that the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™ will truly be a tournament of ‘firsts.’

“These enhancements further underline the AFC’s desire to enhance our flagship competitions with each passing edition and bring to life our Vision of providing a world-class stage for our players, teams and officials.”

The AFC President concluded: “At the same time, we are anchored on our Mission to excite and engage with more fans than ever before, and I am confident that the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™ will be remembered as Asian football’s finest hour.”