ABU DHABI // The assistant coach of the UAE Under 17 team is confident the national squad will be up to speed by the time the Under 17 World Cup kicks off in the country.
"We have a long programme to prepare a strong squad and we want to show the world we are playing on merit rather than as the championship host" Abdullah Al Shahin said.
"We started preparing from the summer with a camp in Turkey and since then we have continued to work on building a strong squad. We will shortlist a 26-player squad this summer and work on a schedule until the championship in October."
The UAE did not take part in the Asian Under 16 Championship in Iran last year but have played a spate of friendlies in the past few months and have more games lined up ahead of the World Cup.
"We didn't participate in the Asian championship but our preparation started at the same time and we have played more than 18 friendly matches so far," Al Shahin said.
The build up continues with a match against Singapore at the Football Association grounds in Dubai on Wednesday night.
"We have played against strong teams like Japan, Tunisia and the Czech Republic and have more friendly games lined up after we pick a final squad for the overseas camp in the summer," Al Shahin said.
The youngsters are also playing in the UAE Under 19 league to give them as much playing time as possible.
"This will provide them with the experience of playing against stronger and older players who are faster and physically bigger," Al Shahin said. "They certainly will benefit playing in this league."
And Al Shahin says the door is still open for young players to stake a claim in the squad.
"We are still scouting for more players and will include them as and when we spot talent," he said. "We have a long programme. The plan is to have a camp in either Switzerland or Germany which we are yet to finalise. We will return to base and then travel for a final camp to either Malaysia or Singapore."
The Under 17 World Cup comes after the UAE hosted the Under 20 World Cup in 2003 and two Club World Cups.
"Such events have good benefits to the host nation," said Khaled Awadh, the assistant chief executive of Al Wahda.
"The World Cup will create a lot of awareness among the country's youth and encourage them to work harder. They will also be in the spotlight for those scouting for talent, and who knows, an Emirati star can emerge."
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