European heavyweights Benfica, Feyenoord and Dinamo Zagreb will be among the high-profile clubs taking part in the Zayed International Youth Cup being hosted by Al Wahda this weekend.
The Clarets have been hosting the tournament annually since 1993 and some of their and the Arabian Gulf League’s finest players having been discovered down the years.
Wahda and UAE icon Ismail Matar is arguably the biggest name locally to have graced the tournament, as well as Al Ain striker Saeed Al Kathiri and Al Nasr defender Mahmoud Khamis.
Fellow AGL and Abu Dhabi side Al Jazira will also compete this year, with French side Vannes completing the six-club line-up.
Former Wahda player turned academy director Adel Khamis claimed that while the hosts have not won the tournament for a number of years, his main focus has and will continue to be the development of Wahda’s young Emirati talents.
“My goals are that I want our players to benefit from the matches,” said Khamis at Wahda’s Al Nahyan Stadium as the tournament was launched yesterday.
“I think my teams will do well and play good matches, we have good players, they can do really well and ultimately we have players who can make it to the first team, but we are not focusing on winning the competition like we did last year.
“We competed and there were some tough games last year, but this year we want to take other benefits, like developing the players for the future of the club.
“I’m not saying we don’t have a chance, but we want to take more benefits. It’s more about the players developing. We haven’t won this tournament for a long time because we are focusing on other things, like taking benefits from other teams.”
Internazionale, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid have featured at the tournament previously, and Khamis confirmed the clubs coming to the UAE for this year’s tournament were invited because Wahda can learn from their academy approaches.
He added: “There were 10 teams in Europe we asked. We wanted to focus on teams only with good academies. All these academies have a history and they have developed players they have sold to some of the best clubs in the world.
“They are some of the best academies in Europe and have some really good players there. Also, by playing against these types of players, it will help the young players at Al Wahda get better too. They will be tough games but they will learn a lot.”
Khamis said he did not want to single out any future Wahda stars who will feature this year, but revealed that the home team will feature several UAE youth starlets.
The teams will be split up into two groups with Wahda featuring alongside Dutch giants Feyenoord and Vannes in Group A, while Group B features Jazira as well as Portuguese juggernauts Benfica and Croatia’s Dinamo.
Wahda will kick off the tournament on Friday against Feyenoord, with the final to be played at Al Nahyan on Thursday, March 30.
There will be a trophy and medals on offer for the champions and medals for the runners-up, with individual man of the match awards in each game, as well as accolades for top scorer, best goalkeeper, best defender and best midfielder.
As hundreds of young footballers’ head to Capital for a youth football extravaganza, Manchester City FC manager Pep Guardiola has spoken of what it was like to bring his team of star names to train in the city.
This weekend will see more than 800 players from across the Middle East head to Zayed Sports City, for the first ever Manchester City FC Abu Dhabi Cup.
The competition will feature youth football matches as well as free fun filled family activities and competitions for anyone to enjoy.
It comes after Guardiola brought the Manchester City team to Emirates Palace for warm weather training, meeting fans and youth players of all ages during their stay.
“The trip [to Abu Dhabi] gave us a chance to get away and do things a little differently. Being in Abu Dhabi gives us a chance to come to a beautiful country, with a different climate to the one we’re used to – it freshens things up for all of us,” he said.
“The facilities out here in Abu Dhabi are outstanding. To have everything on one site in this way is invaluable and the hotel is of the very highest standard.
“The staff have embraced my team and all those who work for the club throughout our stay. That is a huge plus to help us in making the trip as seamless as possible and we are incredibly grateful for all their efforts.”
The inaugural Manchester City Abu Dhabi Cup 2017, which is supported by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority and Etihad Airways, has seen many teams from the UAE, Oman and Bahrain register to take part and is open to Under 10, 12, 14 and 16 sides.
Upbeat UAE boss Mohamed Abbas is highlighting the positive of making next month’s FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, rather than dwelling on Saturday’s comprehensive 7-2 defeat by Iran in the final of the 2017 AFC Beach Soccer Championship.
Hopes of a third continental crown for the Whites quickly evaporated in Malaysia as defender Moslem Mesigar’s double, goalkeeper Seyed Hosseini’s fine strike and forward Mohammadali Mokhtari’s penalty made it 4-0 by the start of the second period.
UAE goalkeeper Humaid Jamal’s inch-perfect strike and defender Haitham Mohamed’s bundled effort threatened to make it uncomfortable at 4-2, before an accurate free-kick by substitute Seyed Nazem, defender Amir Akbari’s volley and a second Mokhtari spot-kick ended the rout.
Both finalists and third-place play-off winners Japan will now go to the Bahamas from April 27-May 7 for the global event.
For freshly-installed coach Abbas, he cannot wait to tackle the challenge ahead.
“This is a really good moment for the team and for me personally as this is my first time as a coach,” he said. “We had aimed to become champions but we couldn’t achieve that.
“But I am proud of my team’s attitude and achievement. Now we have to focus on the World Cup.
“We will be looking at some potential new players to join the squad and will select the best, we’ll also train more. The World Cup is the target now and we’ll try to make an impact there.”
The decision by the UAE Football Association to part ways with Brazilian supremo Guga after a dismal second-bottom finish at November’s Beach Soccer Intercontinental Cup has gained instant validation.
The Whites topped Group C ahead of Japan, then edged Lebanon 2-1 on penalties after an epic 4-4 draw in the semi-finals.
That result guaranteed one of three slots for the Caribbean tournament.
There they have been drawn in Group C against Panama, reigning champions Portugal and Guga’s Paraguay. This fifth qualification has helped ease the pain after Iran – ranked 14 places above them in the world rankings in fifth – easily brushed them aside for a second AFC title.
“We were ready for this game and we knew that the UAE were tired as it was a tough semi-final game against Lebanon for them,” Team Melli Football Saheli coach Mohammad Hoseyn Mirshamsi said. “I think today’s game was easy for us.
“The most important advantage that we had over the UAE today was physical fitness.”