Ali Al Balushi and his team-mates are hoping to take home the gold at Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.
The Special Olympics UAE footballer is determined to win big when he and the rest of the team kick off at the World Games on home soil on 14 March next year.
Preparations are already well under way with the UAE looking to build on their positive performance at the inaugural Unified Football Cup, which was held in Chicago, USA, from July 17 to 21. It was part of Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations.
Al Balushi scored in the UAE’s 8-0 defeat of Canada in the group stages and is now eager to face teams from all over the world when they travel to his home country for next year’s Special Olympics World Games.
“Playing in the Unified Cup in Chicago was one of the proudest moments of my life,” said the 24-year-old. “I am so happy that our national team reached such special levels.”
The UAE finished third in the competition after resounding victories in the group stages where they won 8-0, 4-0 and 7-0. They narrowly missed out on a place in the final after losing on penalty kicks to Uruguay in the semi-final.
However, Al Balushi is confident his teammates can go all the way in Abu Dhabi next year.
“Without the penalties we would have been in the final, but this is the nature of a football game; some days you win, other days you lose,” he said.
“I think it is important to participate in international competitions like the Unified Cup as it helps to refine the talents of the UAE team, especially before the World Games in Abu Dhabi next year.
“I would like to participate in the next tournament to represent the UAE and to bring joy and smiles to the faces of my friends, loved ones and my family,” he added.
A selection of the du La Liga High Performance Centre’s top talents are in Spain for a 21-day scouting camp, where they will hope to get spotted by La Liga’s top youth teams including Sevilla and Malaga.
Scouts will be present at training sessions and matches on the lookout for talents to invite for trials.
The third annual du LaLiga HPC trip is the largest team of athletes to date with 48 players, ranging from 12 to 17, and representing the top players selected from across the UAE through the duFC platform.
The expansion of the platform this year to the U14 age group is providing younger players with the opportunity to be discovered by Spanish scouts and trained by UEFA pro-certified highly experienced coaches, providing them with a head start for a possible professional football career nationally or internationally.
Abdulwahed Juma, du’s executive vice president, said: “The du La Liga HPC teams consist of some of the top youth footballers in the UAE and we are certain that in the near future we will see some of them playing at professional levels.
“In just three years, du LaLiga HPC teams are now recognised across the UAE as the strongest youth teams and we continue to invest in their development and look forward to following their progress in the coming weeks.”
The intensive programme has been designed by La Liga’s UEFA pro-certified coaches to give these athletes the experience of training and competing at pro-levels, developing their mental and physical strengths.
David Iglesias, head coach of du La Liga HPC and a former Real Madrid youth team coach, added: “We invest year-round in developing the skills of the top youth footballers across the UAE in preparation for this camp, during which we expose them to a grueling training programme and organise competitive matches against some of the top youth teams in La Liga.
“This gives these players the best exposure to professional football. During our third season we are confident with our team’s development and look forward to a successful camp.”
The trip kicked off with the boys training twice a day with their first match against Cadiz scheduled on Saturday, followed by matches against Sevilla, Almeria, Granada and a grand finale against Malaga on August 24.
The du La Liga High Performance Centre is a first of its kind outside of Spain, providing talented footballers with a rigorous year-round training programme and competitive matches, including their participation in and leadership of the UAE FA Academy League.
For more information, visit www.dufc.ae.
Al Ain’s hopes of lifting a second Arab Club Champions Cup ended in bizarre circumstances on Saturday night as they were knocked out of the 2018/19 competition by Algeria’s ES Satif.
In a strange twist, Al Ain won the second leg 1-0 in Zagreb, meaning the tie finished 2-2 on aggregate. But Satif advanced to the last 16 via away goals, even though both the first and second legs were played at Stadion Maksimir in the Croatian capital.
Having lost the opening leg of the newly formatted straight knockout competition 2-1 on Tuesday, Zoran Mamic’s men won the second encounter, although veteran Ibrahim Diaky’s first half header was not enough to salvage their hopes in the pre-season competition, with Hacene Hemmar’s side somehow advancing.
The Boss’ preparations for the tournament had been hounded by off-field drama prior to Tuesday’s opening leg loss.
An eligibility row broke out after a threat was made to withhold all nine UAE call-ups – bar talisman Omar Abdulrahman – from the national team’s external training camp in Austria from August 1-18.
Mamic insisted it was in the “best interest” of UAE football that he had retained a number of international stars for the first-round decider against Satif.
A compromise was then reached which meant utility defender Mohamed Ahmed, centre-back Mohanad Salem and anchorman Ahmed Barman were missing from the squad in Saturday’s clincher.
However, they still dominated the game, raining 11 shots down on goal and enjoying two thirds possession.
The Boss scored the only game through their evergreen midfielder just before the break.
Versatile Japanese defender Tsukasa Shiotani’s wicked free-kick was flicked on by UAE international Amer Abdulrahman and 36-year-old Diaky was free at the back post but still had plenty to do as he stooped to head in, with Satif stopper Moustapha Zeghba getting a hand on the header but unfortunate and unable to prevent it crossing the line.
Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ain get their title defence underway against Emirates Club in Ras Al Khaimah on August 31.