DUBAI // The next generation of potential Olympic footballers have a chance to follow in the footsteps of the country's Under 23 team in an international competition later this year.
While Mahdi Ali's Olympic team are in London for this year's Games the Under 19s will be preparing for November's Asian Football Confederation's U19 Championship. The team that will play at Wembley Stadium and Old Trafford this summer won the country's first Asian youth title in 2008.
And Eid Barout, the Under 19 coach, reckons his side can emulate that success despite being given a tough draw.
The tournament is being held in the Emirates and the coach knows much will be expected from his young players.
"For sure, there will be a lot of expectations from the team, but this kind of pressure is good for the boys," Barout said. "It will keep them on the top of their game and they will be trying to win all their matches and the title. So this is very important.
"We have to make them realise the kind of expectations that is riding on their shoulders. I really trust my boys, have a lot of faith in them, and if they put their mind to it, they can go all the way."
The UAE, who will be hosting the continental youth championships for the third time, were drawn in Group A alongside the four-time champions Iran, the six-time runners-up Japan and Kuwait.
South Korea, the top ranked Asian team, head Group B, which includes China, Thailand and the five-time champions Iraq, while the defending champions North Korea have been drawn in Group C alongside Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Jordan. Australia, the losing finalists in 2010, are in the fourth group along with Saudi Arabia, the reigning Gulf U17 champions, Syria and Qatar.
The top two teams from each group will qualify for the knockout stages and Barout was confident his boys will be among those final eight.
"We have played against Japan and Iran in the last few months and we lost those games, but our circumstances at the time were not good," Barout said after the draw in Dubai today. "But we can promise our fans that we will work hard for championship and make the country proud.
"I have full faith in my boys and I am confident they will qualify for the second round."
The UAE will face Kuwait in the opening match of the championships on November 3, meet Iran on November 5 and then face Japan two days later.
Mahdi Ali's team cruised through the tournament in Jeddah without losing a game. Ahmed Khalil won a number of individual honours at the tournament and was later voted as the Asia's Youth Player of the Year, while the triumph earned UAE an automatic qualification to the 2009 Fifa Youth World Cup in Egypt.
The target for this team is the same – qualifying for the 2013 Youth World Cup in Turkey.
"On paper, yes our group looks tough," said Yousuf Abdullah, the secretary general of the UAE Football Association. "But the fact is, every single team here is strong and that is why they are in this tournament. They have all qualified on merit and all teams are equal.
"So I believe every group is tough, but our target is to qualify for the 2013 [Youth] World Cup and I am confident our boys will do their best to achieve that."
The team will start their preparations for the tournament from June 20 with an eight-day indoor camp. They will then travel to Morocco for 20 days. They will return home to play a few friendly matches during the month of Ramadan, before getting a two-day break to celebrate Eid with their family and friends.
The squad will reassemble after that for another 10-day indoor camp and then travel to Qatar for the Arab Cup, before getting a 20-day break. The team will then get together for their final one-month camp before making their appearance at the championship.
Barout, however, said training cannot be a substitute for playing matches and complained about the lack of opportunities for his boys at their clubs in the Pro League.
"We are working hard, but the problem we are facing is that our boys are not playing regularly at their clubs in the Pro League," he said. "Walid Anbar of Emirates is the only one getting chances. Fahad Hadeed at Al Wasl, he is grumbling because sometimes he is playing and sometimes he is not. So this is our problem.
"If they keep playing, I promise you we will have no problem. We will have a very, very strong team. But the players need to play and that is the only way for them to improve."
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