Mohamed Sajid is the man for the big occasion and the Al Ain Juniors English talisman is hoping he can continue his rich vein of goalscoring form and help carry his side all the way to Emirates Islamic National School League Football glory this weekend.
The second installment of the tournament concludes at The Sevens on Saturday, with debutants Al Ain taking on GEMS Our Own Indian School in the NSL’s under-16 semi-finals.
Al Ain thrashed Dubai’s Indian School Oud Metha in the last 16 two weeks ago 5-1 but had a tougher time in the quarter-final against Abu Dhabi Indian School (ADIS), Sajid’s eighth goal of the tournament proving crucial as Al Ain won 1-0 to make it to finals day.
He also scored a hat-trick against Oud Metha and is hoping his purple patch continues as Al Ain look to cap their first season in the NSL with a trophy.
“It was a tough game (against ADIS) and we had to defend a lot at the end, games are a lot tighter in the knockout stages we realised,” said Sajid, 15.
“(The goal against ADIS), it was my eighth goal of the tournament and it was an important one too as we won 1-0. If we lose any matches we’re out.
“I scored a hat-trick in the first game as we won 5-1. I hope I can score more in the semis. It would feel amazing to win the tournament on our debut.”
Saturday’s last four will pit Al Ain against a GEMS side who overcame Fujairah’s Institute of Applied Technology in the last 16 3-2.
Captain Tony Paul led by example in victory, betting one of his side’s goals, and the 16-year-old skipper is pumped up for Saturday’s showdown.
“Last year we played in the tournament, but it was disappointing as we got knocked out in the group stages,” said Paul.
“It feels amazing to be through not only to the knockout stages this year, but now to the semi-finals. The quarter-final was that sort of match where we didn’t know we were through right until the final whistle, we just gave our heart and soul and in the end, we won.
“Now we just want to do the same again in the semis.”
Reigning champions Lycee Francais International Georges Pompidou will be vying to meet wither GEMS or Al Ain in the final, but they will first have to find a way past Our Own English High School Al Ain who beat Al Dhafra 2-1 to set up a date with Frederic Deswarte’s men.
A saunter to the inaugural U-16 title has not been replicated this season, with striker Ralph Charaf’s eye-catching goal two weeks ago sending LFI through via a 1-0 win against Alkamal American School.
Charaf, 15, did not feature for the champions last season, but feels better competition will actually help LFI.
“My team-mates have told me the games have been tougher this year, which I think is better,” he said.
“It’s always better to get a test because otherwise you don’t improve.”
Jamal Bin Ghalaita, CEO, of Emirates Islamic said: “The second season of our junior football league has witnessed healthy competition, exciting football, and the strong athletic spirit of the youth in the UAE. I am very pleased to see these young children take great pride and display such intense passion for this wonderful sport.
“As a bank that has always focused on giving back to the community, Emirates Islamic is proud to channel this energy into an initiative that will enable these young footballers to further pursue their dreams and inculcate health and fitness as an integral part of their lifestyle.”
With a highly successful inaugural edition in 2015/2016, the second season of the Emirates Islamic National School League – Football’ saw a greater participation with over 90 teams from 60 schools in the UAE competing and the addition of an Under 12’s category.