DUBAI // The UAE may have broken into the top 100 of world football, but qualifying for tournaments like the World Cup and Olympic Games and winning regional competitions remain the bigger objectives, a federation official said. The "Whites" rose by 13 positions to No 88 in the latest rankings issued by Fifa, with a 3-2 victory over Moldova and a 1-0 loss to Algeria in their two games since the last rankings, in May.
The UAE is in the top 100 for the first time since 2006. But Yusuf Abdullah, the secretary general of the Football Association, insists it is not a cause for celebration. "Yes, the rankings are important, but not so much," he said. "For people who are looking at it, it is very important. But I don't think it gives a proper indication of the standards of football in a country because it is based on different sets of regulations. You can play friendly games against weak teams, take points and keep improving your rankings.
"It is good when you are moving up the rankings. But the important thing for us is to build a strong team and qualify for events like the World Cup, and do well at tournaments like the Asian Cup. This is more important for us than the ranking. We want to do well in the upcoming tournaments like the Gulf Cup and the Asian Cup and show a good level of UAE football." Abdullah cited the examples of other teams which did not go to the World Cup in South Africa, yet rose in the Fifa rankings.
"There were teams at the World Cup who were ranked lower than teams that failed to qualify," he said. "Looking back, we reached the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. Teams like Kuwait and Iraq did not make the grade. But since we did not win any games in the final round, we lost points and came down in the rankings, while the rankings of these teams went up because they did not play in the final round of qualifying.
"If we want to work for rankings, it is easy. We can keep playing teams like Nepal, Sri Lanka and keep rising up the rankings. "But we would rather play the stronger teams in friendly games because it helps us to improve as well." The UAE could manage just a single point from eight matches in the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2010 World Cup but has lost just two of their nine games under the new coach, the Slovenian Srecko Katanec.
The arrival of talented youngsters into the senior team has also helped in the revival of fortunes. The UAE are the Under 19 champions of Asia and reached the quarter-finals of the Youth World Cup in Egypt last September, with playmaker Amer Abdulrahman being named one of the five best players of the tournament. Abdullah said the top players from the youth team have "become key players of our senior side".
He added: "They are our hope. We hope with this group, we can qualify for the 2012 Olympics and the World Cup." Upcoming events for the national team include the GCC Championship in Qatar this month and the Asian Games in China in November. Next year, the UAE will attempt to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games. Abdullah said many of the young players will play key roles in all those events. "So it will be a busy time for them," he said, "but we have high hopes."