UAE Football Association vice-president Obaid Salem Al Shamsi has backed the current crop of Under-23 starlets to repeat the feats of their storied predecessors and qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Dr Abdulla Misfer’s initial 27-man squad begin the first of two training camps today in Dubai as preparations begin in earnest for next month’s AFC U-23 Championship. A top-three finish in the tournament in Qatar from January 12-30 will secure a second-successive entry into the Games.
The likes of Al Ain superstar Omar Abdulrahman and 2015 Asian Cup top scorer Ali Makbhout first shone on a global stage four years ago and Al Shamsi was confident in the current generation’s ability to replicate this success.
He said: “There is no doubt that our ambition focuses towards achieving positive results and we are confident in our young players’ possibilities. They will work to give the best representation of the UAE and raise the banner of the state high.
“They will utilise all their efforts in order to repeat the achievement of London 2012 and the participation of their brethren who represented us in the last version.
“We hope that this generation follows their example and follow them into the first team.”
A roster which features Arabian Gulf League stars such as Al Nasr goalkeeper Ahmed Shambieh, Al Jazira magician Khalfan Mubarak and Al Wahda forward Mohamed Al Akbari will be together untilWednesday, culminating with a friendly against North Korea.
They will then reconvene from December 27 to January 4. During this spell they will play Syria on December 29, China on January 1 and South Korea on January 4.
The final 23-man selection will then travel to Doha on January 10, ahead of their Group D opener against Australia four days later. Further pool games follow against Jordan on January 17 and Vietnam on January 20.
Al Ain made it four straight wins in the AGL but had Lee Myung Joo to thank for after his late winner sealed a 2-1 triumph over Fujairah, on Sunday.
The South Korean showed great technique to volley home four minutes from time, to build on Ibrahim Diaky’s opener after Christophe Mandanne levelled for the visitors.
It ensured The Boss maintained their perfect home record in the league this season but it was far from easy for the AGL leaders.
With Mohammed Fayez denied by the crossbar, it was Al Ain captain Diaky, who opened proceedings at finishing off a clinical move.
Omar Abdulrahman’s clever flick found Myung Joo and the latter set up Mohammad Fawzi, whose low angled cross was met by Diaky for his fourth goal of the season.
After the restart, the AGL champions went in search for the second and nearly found it through Fellipe Bastos but his low shot was denied by goalkeeper Mohammad Salem.
Fujairah continued to press forward but were wasteful in front of goal with Patrick Eze blasting high and wide. With the score still 1-0, Ivan Hasek’s men were duly rewarded with less than 20 minutes to go.
After Eze chested the high ball into Mandanne’s path, the Frenchman made no mistake outside the six yard box as he slotted home.
It was all one way traffic from then on. Bastos’ long-range effort was tipped over by Salem and the Fujairah goalkeeper had to be alert to dent Mohamad Ahmed’s strike minutes later.
But the home crowd were soon celebrating. After Abdulrahman’s cross was not fully cleared by Fujairah, Myung Joo unleashed a fierce volley past a hapless Mohammad Salem.
Elsewhere, missed penalties from Jo and Carlos Villaneuva proved to be costly as Al Shabab suffered a 2-1 home defeat to Al Dhafra.
Jo saw his shot saved by Abdullah Sultan in the 23rd minute before David Torres gave the visitors the lead.
After Villanueva failed the hit the target in the 64th minute, Mak-hete Diop made it 2-0. Mohammad Juma struck late for Shabab but it proved to be a consolation goal.
Bani Yas’ reinvigorating 1-0 triumph against hotly-tipped Al Ahli was because they played a different ball game, according to boss Luis Garcia.
The Sky Blues had won only two matches in their last 12 in all competitions prior to last night’s tense home match, decided by Ishak Belfodil’s first-half rebound.
Their dogged performance contrasted with their wretched 3-0 defeat last time out in the Arabian Gulf League against Sharjah and coach Garcia, 43, argued his confused troops had “played basketball” then.
He said: “We needed this win and we got it. The players were more focused after last week’s defeat to Sharjah.
“The difference in the two games were, we played basketball against Sharjah and tonight we played football.
“I can now leave a bit happy for Christmas to be with my parents for a couple of days.”
The hosts at Bani Yas Stadium scrapped for every ball, centre-back’s Abdusalam Mohammed and Mohammed Jaber leading the fight for the club who came into the match a lowly 10th.
This fearsome spirit did not imp-ress Red Knights boss Cosmin Olaroiu, who insisted he had never seen as many fouls during four years in the UAE.
He said: “From when I came here until now, I never, never, never saw anything like today. They did not ask to play and did not let us do anything.
“I am tired. I talk all the time and only me I fight.
“Lima controlled the ball on the chest and fouled, Ahmed Khalil ran to the goal and fouled. How can we play or develop?
“We lost a battle but didn’t lose the war. We do not give up, we must continue.”