UAE boss Mohamed Bashir is hopeful ring rust won’t impact his players at a new home in Business Bay when the seventh edition of the Beach Soccer Intercontinental Cup kicks-off later this month.
The sandy extravaganza has developed into a landmark occasion on Dubai’s sporting calendar since its 2011 inauguration. Eight of the globe’s grandest sides – including defending event champions and 2017 Beach Soccer World Cup winners Brazil – will compete for glory once again from October 31-November 4, but for the first time the action will be away from Dubai International Marine Club.
Prior to Bashir’s revitalising appointment, the UAE limped home second last in 2016 – their worst-ever display. The Emirati was convinced a much-improved performance can be drawn out once the players get back into the swing of training, following their hiatus after May’s narrow group-stage exit at the 2017 Beach Soccer World Cup.
“Inshallah, everything will come good,” he said at Tuesday’s draw in Dubai Sports Council’s headquarters. “We will start the tournament and see what happens afterwards.
“The first game is so important for the UAE. We have not played together for two or three months, so we need friendly matches to play.
“Inshallah, the UAE Football Association will sort things out. Inshallah, we can get out of the group.”
The UAE were placed into a punishing Group A. Alongside heavyweights Brazil, they will need to bypass 2015 World Cup victors Portugal and an Egypt side who finished third at the 2016 Africa Beach Soccer Cup of Nations.
Group B will see ex-UAE coach Guga’s Paraguay make their Dubai bow. Russia have won the Intercontinental Cup three times and Iran finished third at this year’s World Cup.
Another major talking point was the move away from DIMC. For Beach Soccer Worldwide’s vice-president Joan Cusco, this was essential to attracting both new and old fans.
He said: “We always try to bring the best and make this event bigger and bigger, stronger and stronger, every year.
“This new venue will be easier accessed by people and give them lots of new possibilities. We can show the world the Burj Khalifa and I am sure it will be a great promotion.”
Standard tickets for the tournament are to remain free of charge.
In this column, we track the best Arab football talents plying their trade in the Premier League and round-up their accomplishments every week.
Liverpool star Mohamed Salah is never far from the headlines after a series of devastating displays for the Reds, and he features this week following Jurgen Klopp side’s 1-1 draw against Newcastle.
Meanwhile, West Brom’s Ahmed Hegazi impressed as well and Mohamed Elneny only featured for eight minutes during Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Brighton.
Here’s a look at how these Arab footballers fared this weekend.
Not his best day in a Liverpool shirt, but still looked solid if unspectacular in Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at St. James’ Park.
Although his contribution was minimal against Newcastle, the Egyptian has been one of the Reds’ star players this term, scoring five goals in 10 appearances.
If the 25-year-old had a more cultured right foot then he’d have been even more impressive for for the Kop giants.
Salah switched to the left for the second-half and missed a clear cut chance in the 50th minute to put the Reds 2-1 up.
Liverpool’s next game after the international break is a crucial clash against rivals Manchester United on October 14 at Anfield. Next-up for Salah is a World Cup qualifying clash for Egypt against Congo in Alexandria.
Minutes – 83
Shots – 1
Shots on target – 0
Key Passes – 1
Passing Accuracy – 80%
Touches – 49
Passes – 35
The Egyptian seemed to relish the physical challenge against Troy Deeney as the pair battled against each other throughout the match.
He won more headers than any other player at the Hawthorns, but made two errors which could have put a different perspective on the contest.
The first: a missed header from three yards out with the Baggies trailing 0-2; and the second came in the dying moments of the game when he ducked under a free-kick.
Overall, though, the 26-year-old has been a totemic presence at the back this season for Tony Pulis’s side with commanding displays against West Ham and Arsenal.
Minutes – 90
Tackles – 0
Clearances – 10
Blocks – 2
Passing Accuracy – 61.1%
Touches – 32
Passes – 18
Aerials Won – 7
The Egyptian only featured for eight minutes during Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Brighton.
After an industrious display against West Brom the previous week, it was expected the 25-year-old would start alongside Granit Xhaka or at least feature more prominently from the bench.
With the Gunners in an unassailable lead, Elneny replaced Xhaka and made nine touches during his brief spell on the field.
Minutes – 8
Shots – 0
Key Passes – 0
Passing Accuracy – 100%
Touches – 9
Passes – 7
“The second goal! The second goal for our national team! Allah, Allah, Allah. Who scored it? Who scored? Somah! It had to be Somah! It had to be Somah! The equalising goal.
“Pardon me! I’ve lost it! No one can stop them!”
Commentator Talal Bosnaly’s impassioned words, spoken through a flood of tears, gripped the globe as Syria defied both years of brutal conflict and the referee’s watch to keep their World Cup 2018 dream improbably alive. His emotional outburst on September 5 immediately caught like wildfire on social media.
Millions of views have been recorded of the drama which played out when striker Omar Al Somah – recently back with the national team after a self-imposed five-year exile – salvaged a decisive 2-2 draw in the 93rd minute of their final group game at continental heavyweights Iran. This late intervention secured memorable progression, Thursday’s opening face-off with Australia the next challenge on the path to an implausible tournament debut next summer.
Defy the odds once again versus the Asian Cup holders over two legs and the right to contest the inter-confederation play-off will be earned by a nation from which more than 300,000 have died and almost five million have been driven abroad after six bloodstained years.
Such ruination and the overhanging threat of danger means a competitive game was last held on Syrian soil when Lebanon were beaten 4-0 during Asian Cup qualifying in March 2010. For the Road to Russia, yet another obstacle cleared by this incredible team has been the fact ‘home’ is now found in Oman and Malaysia.
With loyalties spread between a bewildering spectrum of combatants and political parties, it is no surprise to learn the degree to which this has impacted squad availability.
Anas Ammo has utilised the connections earned as a former sports reporter to set-up the Free Syrian team. This independent side currently plays in Turkey and Germany, filling its ranks from the Syrian diaspora spread across Europe.
Links to elements within the national side remain strong. Ammo tells an illustrative tale to Sport360° via Skype from an unnamed member of the squad, independently unverified, of the panic caused by an unannounced trip back to their home country in the wake of the remarkable result earlier this month at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.
Ammo says: “After the Iran game one of the team managers told all the players: ‘We go to Damascus.’ All the players said: ‘What? We go to Damascus? That is impossible.’ “The team manager asked why it was impossible and they replied: ‘We are afraid’.
“Omar Al Somah was last in Syria five years ago; Tamer Haj Mohamad was last in Syria five years ago; Hamid Mido was last in Syria four years ago; Alaa Al Shbli was last in Syria six years ago.
“They thought that if they went to Syria, [President] Basher al- Assad would lock them in prison.
“They went to Syria for propaganda for the media. They thanked him for his support and they received $10,000 each as bonus.”
— The-AFC.com (@theafcdotcom) October 2, 2017
Since the Syria crisis’ initial blow out when protests calling for the removal of President Al-Assad were violently suppressed, sport has been intertwined.
The first victim of the popular uprising on March 18, 2011 was a keen footballer for Al Shu’la – Mahmoud al-Jawabra.
A report released by the Syrian Network for Human Rights this March alleged that 253 athletes had been killed by Syrian regime forces, one killed by Russian forces, five killed by Daesh terrorists, three killed by Fateh al Sham Front and one died through torture by Kurdish self-management forces.
Furthermore, the same document has declared 10 stadiums and sports halls across the country have either been turned into detention centres, suffered shelling or been transformed into weapons depots by the plethora of warring factions.
Veteran striker Firas Al Khatib’s young cousin was killed in an attack on Homs. Al Khatib made a shock first trip to Damascus in six years during August, ahead of starting both recent qualifiers.
Al Somah, the star performer in the Saudi Professional League with Al Ahli Jeddah, also called off a five-year absence at the same time.
Another impeding factor to success should have been the conditions in the Syrian Premier League, an embattled competition from which just four of coach Ayman Hakeem’s 21-man squad were drawn from in September.
From 2013 until the end of 2016/17, games were played either in Damascus or Damascus and Latakia because of security concerns.
— The-AFC.com (@theafcdotcom) September 6, 2017
This could have put the brakes on the developments experienced in the previous decade when Al Karamah were beaten in the 2006 AFC Champions League final. The inaugural AFC Cup final saw Al Jaish edge Al Wahda Damascus in 2004, Al Ittihad replicating their feat six years later.
Ahmad Azzam, 40, is steeped in Syrian football. He earned caps for the country, while he is the current assistant coach at Jaish – Syria’s most-decorated club.
He takes immense pride in the resolute stance he has witnessed.
“The Syrian football before the crisis was in a good position,” the celebrated ex-midfielder says. “It was evolving and we saw many Syrian clubs competing in Asia.
“We can say five years before the crisis, Syrian football was in a good position. After the crisis, things have become very difficult.
“But regarding the national team, there are many good circumstances today. We reached the top level in Asia.”
Within the safe zones established this summer and other cities in which pro Al-Assad forces dominate, Syria’s progression from no-hopers to red-hot contenders has, largely, been welcomed.
Iyad al Nasser is head of sports programmes for Syrian National Television. Like Azzam, he warmly regales about the shows of support and hope for the future witnessed.
“The look of the Syrian fans was magnificent after the Iran game,” the broadcaster says.
“In all squares in the Syrian territories, many screens were put up.
They put screens also in the main stadiums in the main cities.
“To give you an example of one of the biggest squares, Al Ameen in Damascus, there was 200,000 persons. Let’s say it was a national happiness which gives hope to the Syrian people that the harsh years of the war can disappear.”
War has not always hindered success on this continent. Iraq rose above their conflict to miraculously claim the 2007 Asian Cup.
Syria began qualification in May 2015 as war-ravaged outsiders, ranked beyond the world’s top- 100 by FIFA. They now stand four games away from a historic success that defies reason and shows the depths of human resilience.
“It would be a remarkable achievement, there’s no two ways about that,” says Paul Williams, a freelance journalist and co-host of The Asian Game podcast.
“If they go one step further, in a pure football sense it would be one of the greatest achievements by an Asian nation in a long time, almost equal to that of Iraq in 2007.
“But I think we have to be careful not to oversell the fairytale aspect of this story.”