Abdullah Al-Jarfi was part of the UAE side competing in the Red Bull Neymar Jr’s Five World Finals in Brazil. In an exclusive column with Sport360 Al-Jarfi talks about the team’s fitness preparation, which earned the UAE a third place finish.
With an event like this it’s important to work out in the gym as well as playing football. With the Red Bull Neymar Jr’s Five tournament, the game is non-stop, so you don’t get a chance to breath. We have people who play eleven-a-side but a lot of us play futsal. In eleven-a-side you get a chance to relax and take a breath but in this game you have to focus the whole time, as you’re always on the move, so it’s important to have high fitness levels. We all go to the gym and workout regularly, it’s important to keep momentum in a game like this, and also you need to be strong because the other teams take it very seriously as it’s so competitive.
We don’t actually have a coach we are only six players so it’s up to each of us to make sure we’re in good condition for the game. There were better players than us on other teams in the World Finals but we played a defensive game and hit them on the counter attack. We were actually winning against Mexico in the semi final but couldn’t quite get over the line, and they ended up winning the tournament. We hadn’t played much together before the tournament, but we’re used to playing against each other in the UAE.
When we went to Brazil wanted to win the round of 32, which we did and we started looking at the other teams and began to believe we could beat them. We only had six players (one sub) and we decided to think strategically with which number bibs to wear. Basically our attacker was wearing bib number five and we worked our way backwards so the last defender would be the last to leave the field. [In the tournament a player leaves the field every time a goal is conceded] but we only conceded two goals in the whole competition so we usually had all our players on the pitch. Overall, we’re pleased with coming third in the world, but we are footballers and we wanted to win, but we are proud of what we achieved.
FIFA announced the 10-man shortlist for its annual Best Men’s Player award on Tuesday, with some of the usual suspects making the cut.
Cristiano Ronaldo, the only player to have won the award – it’s only been awarded since 2016, when FIFA’s award split from the Ballon d’Or – is among the favourites to win it again, while Lionel Messi of course made it to the top ten.
Here’s a look at the full shortlist, in the order of likelihood to win the award.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
He finished joint-second in the World Cup scoring charts with four goals that included a stunning hat-trick against Spain, which was completed with a brilliant free-kick that doubled up as a dramatic late equaliser.
Ronaldo would have expected to lead Portugal further in the tournament than a Round of 16 exit, however – and that could cost him this award in a World Cup year.
Mbappe is the man of the moment, and in the aftermath of the World Cup he seems the likeliest challenger to Ronaldo’s throne.
Four goals in France’s triumph, including becoming the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since Pele, have burnished the young man’s reputation, earning him the best young player award at the tournament.
While he starred in the summer, however, Mbappe might just be edged out for year-round production. Ronaldo was brilliant for the second half of Madrid’s campaign and won the Champions League, and it may be tough for the youngster to top that in the voters’ minds.
Not only did Modric shine at the World Cup, with his brilliant midfield play spearheading Croatia’s stunning run to the final – winning the Golden Ball in the process – he was right alongside Ronaldo during Madrid’s Champions League success.
Modric doesn’t bring with him the same weight of goals that Ronaldo does – but being one of the best players in a Champions League-winning side and a World Cup finalist should be enough. Is this the year the powers that be realise goals aren’t everything?
He’s made a great case for himself. And, fun fact: he beat Ronaldo to the Golden Ball at the FIFA Club World Cup last December. A repeat is unlikely – but Modric has earned himself at least a top-three finish.
His willingness to accept a slightly reduced role for France was key to their triumph – though he was still impactful throughout, finishing with four goals – the same as Mbappe.
He was excellent for Atletico Madrid throughout the season, as well, and he scored two goals in the Europa League final, making it a very fine summer for the Frenchman. But perhaps not fine enough to win this award.
Along the way he was his usual brilliant self – or maybe even better than before. In any other year, that would be enough to at least guarantee a top-three finish.
But Barcelona’s limp Champions League exit – which came with a subdued Messi performance in the second leg of the quarter-final – followed by Argentina’s under-par showing at the World Cup, where again he was below par, is going to cost him.
He may not even make the final three-man shortlist.
Hazard was the brightest spot of Chelsea’s shocking domestic slump this season, putting in brilliant displays even as the Blues went from reigning Premier League champions to fifth place, and starring in their FA Cup final win.
But what the Belgian did at the World Cup earned him any absolution he may have needed.
Hazard captained Belgium to their best-ever finish at the tournament, lifting the side and looking their best player. He came in second behind Modric in Golden Ball voting.
Still, given the names above him, he’s a longshot to win.
Kevin de Bruyne
Choosing between the two Belgians over the back of their performances from the last year comes down to splitting hairs.
While Hazard was shining for a struggling team, De Bruyne was looking absolutely stunning as Manchester City ran riot on their way to the Premier League title.
In comparison to his league form, De Bruyne was slightly subdued at the World Cup – though still nearly as brilliant.
He and Hazard could easily be swapped, although in the grand scheme of things, both are equally unlikely to win the award.
Harry Kane sets such high standards for himself that missing out on the Premier League Golden Boot by two goals is a disappointment for him now. His 30 goals still ensured Tottenham kept punching above their weight to secure a Champions League spot again.
And missing out on one Golden Boot spurred him onto another, as he captained England in a thrilling run to the World Cup semi-finals and scored six goals in the process to finish as the tournament’s top scorer.
Kane finished 24th in last year’s voting. Even though he won’t vault all the way to first, a guaranteed top-10 finish is some rise.
It’s a cruel twist of fate that Salah has been pushed this far down on the list. Who knows what would have happened had he not gotten injured in the Champions League final?
It may not have been enough for Liverpool to overcome Real Madrid on the night, but Salah would have at least been a more potent force at the World Cup.
The truth is, however, that just about everyone on the shortlist comes near, matches, or even tops Salah in terms of club performances last season, especially when it comes to trophies, and they all beat him on World Cup showing.
Raphael Varane can make one claim that nobody else can – he’s the only one who won both the Champions League and World Cup this season. If it comes down to just trophies, Varane towers above them all.
He was crucial in France’s glorious run, scoring in the quarter-final and looking a much-improved defender throughout. However, his form for Madrid was patchy, even as he remained part of the backbone of their European triumph.
It’s a shame that no defender has been named the world’s best player since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 – but Varane isn’t quite ready to break that run.
FIFA announced this year’s eleven-man shortlist for the Best FIFA Football Coach award on Tuesday.
Here’s a closer look at the eleven nominees, in the order we think they will land on.
1. DIDIER DESCHAMPS
So what will it be with Deschamps? Molding France’s talented side into World Cup winners was a career-defining feat.
It should be enough to win the award – though he’s got some tough competition from a fellow Frenchman.
2. ZINEDINE ZIDANE
Which third matters more – Real Madrid’s disappointing and unexpected third-place finish in La Liga, or their third straight Champions League triumph, extending a run that was already record-setting when they made it two in a row a year ago?
It’s an easy answer. Winning in Europe and creating history in the process overshadowed everything else – and the way Zidane helped his side navigate a path to the trophy which saw Madrid overcome PSG, Juventus, Bayern Munich, and Liverpool means he deserves the plaudits.
He’s the reigning award-holder, and it’ll be a tight race between him and his former national team captain Deschamps.
3. PEP GUARDIOLA
Pep Guardiola promises domestic domination. He’s done it with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and now with Manchester City.
The way his side utterly decimated just about everyone else in the Premier League was fearsome. Critics who were unsure if his signature style could work in England were left eating their words as City became the first side to record 100 points in a Premier League season, winning the title by a record 19 points.
It’s in Europe where Guardiola’s impressive resume falls short, and a quarter-final exit last season will hurt his chances of winning this award.
4. ERNESTO VALVERDE
Valverde would be at least one place further up had Barcelona not lost their penultimate league game. Guiding them to an unbeaten season, never before done in the 38-game La Liga era, would have vaulted Valverde into Barcelona’s pantheon of great managers.
Just a bog-standard, one-loss La Liga title then, coupled with a Champions League exit which came after leading the first leg of their quarter-final 4-1. That means he won’t earn any official accolades.
But he deserves credit for the way he turned the club around after it looked like they would be chasing Real Madrid’s shadow for years.
5. MAX ALLEGRI
A record-stretching seventh Serie A title is enough of an achievement in itself, but where Allegri earned his salt was the way he led his side to that triumph despite weathering losses in form to some of his key players. Not many teams can afford to drop Paulo Dybala and Alex Sandro and look as effective as before.
And Juve’s continued defensive brilliance, after losing Leonardo Bonucci in the transfer window, was commendable as well. All of this while holding off the best title challengers Juve have faced during their record run.
Juve’s rough luck in Europe, however, will go against Allegri.
6. ZLATKO DALIC
Dalic was parachuted into the Croatia manager position before their last World Cup qualifier. From there, he’s become an instant hero after masterminding Croatia’s improbable run to the final.
His acumen was on display in the side’s stunning 3-0 win over Argentina in the group stages, ditching Croatia’s possession-heavy football and getting his players to soak up the pressure before picking Argentina off on the counter. Sustaining that momentum all the way through to the final was even more impressive.
Ultimately, because he was the losing finalist, he’ll end up being beaten to this award, but he deserves to be on the shortlist.
7. DIEGO SIMEONE
In a season which began with Atletico Madrid unsure whether Diego Simeone would even be at the club after it ended, winning the Europa League and briefly challenging a historically good Barcelona side for the La Liga title was quite the turnaround.
Simeone no doubt had a big part to play in convincing Antoine Griezmann to commit his future to the club as well, though that sort of thing usually doesn’t matter in awards like this.
Nonetheless, the Argentine showed once again why he’s considered one of the best in the business.
8. GARETH SOUTHGATE
Getting England to a semi-final at an international tournament is enough to win a lifetime achievement award, let alone one for just a single year. The way Southgate took a young side, instilled a philosophy which suited his players, and turned them into genuine contenders at the World Cup was a stunning feat.
Losing to Croatia in the semi-final cut short the ultimate dream, but it was still a magical tournament for Southgate, who’s being duly recognised even if he stands little chance of beating out the candidates mentioned above.
9. ROBERTO MARTINEZ
Roberto Martinez’s career has been a mixed bag. His incredible FA Cup triumph with Wigan in 2013 was tempered by their relegation a week later, and he followed up a season of progress for Everton with a poor second campaign.
His appointment as Belgium manager was a surprise. The fact that it was successful? Even more so.
People have been waiting for Belgium to perform like this for years. Getting the best out of the Golden Generation and leading them to third place at the World Cup was an immense achievement.
It’s not enough to win this award, but the nomination is deserved recognition.
10. JURGEN KLOPP
Klopp is being picked for the thrilling style of Liverpool’s play, and the sense he’s revitalised a proud club. His season ended with no trophies – although an unexpected run to the Champions League final is a definite achievement.
That, plus turning Mohamed Salah into one of the best players in the world, wins Klopp plaudits.
But his best results of the season – two wins against Guardiola’s City in the Champions League, and one in the Premier League – ultimately led to no tangible reward. That lack of success makes him a longshot to win.
11. STANISLAV CHERCHESOV
Russia were prepared for embarrassment at their home World Cup. For the lowest-ranked team at the tournament, in a group which contained Uruguay and Egypt, a battling third place was the height of fan expectations.
Instead, Cherchesov got the most out of a veteran squad and young talisman Aleksandr Golovin, and produced a side which thrilled the crowds – and that was before they stunned Spain in the Round of 16. Cherchesov’s tactics were pivotal in that upset.
Being named in the shortlist is just reward for his work at the World Cup, although he’s the least likely candidate to win the award.