All Dubai International Academy coach Jo Terry will be asking from his players this weekend is that they give their all and leave it all out on the field.
DIA head into the inaugural Emirates Islamic Under-12 National School League Football finals on Saturday fresh off a commanding performance in the group stages at Dubai’s Koora Dome last weekend.
Terry’s team were statistically the second-best performers on the day, scoring an impressive 17 goals as they won all four of their Pool 4 games against GEMS Modern Academy, Our Own English High School Fujairah, Mayoor Private School and JSS International School.
DIA only conceded once to storm through to Saturday’s finals day where they will face JSS Private School in the quarter-final.
Terry says his team go into every tournament they play chasing the trophy, although he will be satisfied as long as his team give 100 per cent.
“Confidence is high but the boys will need to perform at their best to win,” he said.
“Winning the tournament is of course what we’re going for, it’s our aim in every tournament we enter. If we play as well as we can, and lose, I won’t have any issues, but I know with the ability my boys have the trophy is within our grasp.”
The format of the U-12s tournament is five-aside and although that’s a little different to the full 11-aside games DIA usually play, Terry insists his players always play the right way, which is why he is confident.
He added: “We trained Tuesday, which was a very good session and we’re prepared. We thoroughly enjoyed the tournament last weekend, where the boys linked up well.
“The boys play a lot out of school, however, it’s a little bit different. We’ve played 11-aside in the schools league but the boys are good at playing in tight situations and moving the ball quickly, it’s how we play whenever we play anyway.”
Elsewhere in the draw, Dubai English Speaking College will be another team to watch out for, having secured their last eight berth with a mighty 24 goals scored and none conceded in their four wins in Pool 1.
Reigning champions Lycee Francais International Georges Pompidou go into the finals as favourites but will have to be wary of the three rivals schools desperate to knock them off their perch.
Frederic Deswarte’s men scraped into the Emirates Islamic National School League Football semi-finals two weeks ago thanks to Allesio Cicchi’s superb header 10 seconds from the end of extra time against Indian High School Oud Metha.
Up until then the quarter-final had been even, with Oud Metha goalkeeper Piyush Salain enjoying an inspired game between the sticks to keep the French side at bay in an entertaining clash.
Cicchi’s fine header meant heartbreak for Oud Metha but gave LFI a shot at defending their crown they won in such inspring fashion 12 months ago to be crowned the inaugural NSL champions.
LFI will come up against Our Own English High School Fujairah in the semi-final at The Sevens on Saturday, a side who also needed extra time to overcome Delhi Private School Dubai.
In fact, of all the semi-finalists, only NIMS Sharjah got to the last four stage without too much drama. After thrashing Springdales 7-0 in their last 16 clash two weeks ago, NIMS beat Abu Dhabi Indian School 2-0 in the last eight.
Diminutive striker Mohammad Shafik Taj is arguably the smallest player in the NSL’s U-14s section, but he is dreaming big ahead of their clash with Wellington International – who reached the last four with a 1-0 extra time victory against The Millennium School Dubai.
“(The last game) was the best game of the tournament so far, Taj said ahead of the tournament finale.
“We are in the semi-final and we are so happy to be there. We are there because of teamwork and Inshallah we can go on to the final now and win it.”
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.