Arabian Gulf Cup kicks off on Thursday

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - Al Jazira players train ahead of their Arabian Gulf Cup match against Kalba. - Al Jazira Twitter

dubai - The 2020-21 season gets underway with the first match-week of the Arabian Gulf Cup on Thursday, which will be held under the slogan "We commit until we succeed", in a call to all football fans to continue adhering to precautionary measures in order to limit the spread of Covid19.

In the opening matches scheduled to start at 6.30pm, Kalba take on Al Jazira while Hatta play Bani Yas. The evening's third match features Fujairah against Ajman.

The UAE Pro League also called on professional clubs to decorate their stadiums with awareness boards in support of the initiative.
In addition to holding the first match-week under this slogan, the new season witnesses many other changes related to the competition format as well as technical and administrative issues.

The UAE Pro League made a number of changes to the format of the competition that was first launched in 2008. The Pro League decided to replace the group stage with a two-legged knock-out system (home and away basis) in the qualifying round, the quarterfinal and semifinal. The final, however, will be single-legged and will take place at a neutral venue.

Under the new format, the reigning champions of the Arabian Gulf League and the Arabian Gulf Cup will qualify directly to the quarterfinal, without taking part in the qualifying round. The new format aims to reduce the number of matches and raise the level of competition.
The Pro League made another change to the team's squad in the competition, as they reduced the required number of players born after 1997 to three only instead of five for each team and removed the requirement of including them in the starting line-up.

Based on the new Fifa regulations, each team will now be allowed to make a maximum of five substitutions. However, to reduce disruption to the game, each team will only be allowed to make substitutions on three occasions, and they can be made during the game or at half-time.

In addition, matches will be held behind closed doors, with a constant observation of the situation and adhering to the directives of the concerned authorities in reference to fans return.

The new protocol aims includes presenting a negative Covid-19 test result (PCR) no older than 72 hours prior to the game. All people in the stadium including substitute players and technical staff, with the exception of the coach, players participating in the warm-up, and referees, have to wear three-ply surgical or cloth masks.

The temperatures of everyone will be checked before entering the stadium. In addition to the continuous cleaning and disinfection of the stadiums, a distance of two metres needs to be maintained between those sitting on the bench.

Player escorts will not accompany players while entering the pitch, the traditional pre-match handshake and the group photos are cancelled, with a separate photo being taken for each team with a commitment to social distancing. The tradition of swapping shirts between players and gathering at midfield before the start of the second half is also cancelled.

In terms of media activities, the protocol included cancelling pre-match interviews, while opting not to shoot dressing rooms at any time, adhering to a two-meter distance when filming players and conducting interviews, and in the media platform and press conference room, and cancelling mixed zone activities except for rights-holders.
Crowd noise.
In line with the precautionary measures to limit the spread of Coronavirus, and in order to protect the fans' health, the matches are held behind closed doors. Therefore, the UAE Pro League decided to use crowd noises as part of the TV coverage, with the service being provided from the stadiums and will reach the viewers on their TVs.
New virtual visuals
Viewers of the UAE Pro League competitions will be able to see new virtual visual elements during some games such as logos, statistics, in addition to virtual panels in the stands. The Pro League will be the first in the region to adopt this initiative, in order to enhance the match viewing experience.

The 2020-21 Arabian Gulf League season will see the introduction of the new Nike Flight ball, which was developed after eight years of investigating the consistency of a football flight by the Nike Equipment Innovation Lab, with more than 800 athletes participating in testing 68 different iterations of the ball.

The new Nike Flight ball carries a fuse-welded four panel construction with 40 percent fewer stiff seams than a traditional 12-panel ball, which enables a prominent sweet spot for superior touch and performance, while the Nike All Conditions Control (ACC) 3D ink helps ensure optimal grip in wet or dry conditions.

6.30 pm: Kalba v Al Jazira
6.30 pm: Hatta v Baniyas
9.00 pm: Fujairah v Ajman

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