TASHKENT // Two of the most prominent figures in UAE football last night suggested that winning a berth in the London 2012 Olympics could mark a turning point for both Emirati players and national teams.
Hamdan Al Kamali, the UAE captain who is on loan from Al Wahda to the French side Lyon, said the exposure of the Olympics could lead to prominent professional opportunities for top players on the Under 23 side, and Yousuf Al Serkal, the chairman of the Football Association's interim committee, said these age-group players will form the nucleus of a team who could qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
"Qualification for the World Cup in 1990, that was big," said Al Serkal, recalling the UAE's only appearance in the planet's biggest football event. "But since then our level of football has been very low, where we did not have any sort of accomplishment ever since, and now this is a big one.
"In 2007 we won the Gulf Cup but, still, it's just a regional tournament. This is the Olympics."
He said the nation's football administrators should give deep thought to aiding the players on the Olympic team as they move on to the senior team.
"For this team it's not only the result here that matters, it's the quality of the players," he said.
"A good team, a promising team for the first national team, and that means in the coming 10 to 15 years we will have a good position in Asia. And now we should he looking forward, planning carefully to qualify for the World Cup.
"I believe we shall take it step by step. The first plan should be winning the 2016 Asian Cup. This team has won the Asian Cup for youth, and I believe they have the quality to win the Asian Cup for the first time.
"And if we have good planning I believe we can make it to the 2018 World Cup."
Al Kamali is the only Emirati playing outside the country, and the first to play with a major European side.
Emirati players have suffered from a lack of exposure, he said, because of the nation's difficulty in reaching major competitions.
He said the Summer Games will provide a unique opportunity to showcase their talents to the legion of talent scouts who watch the world's major tournaments.
Depending on which group they are drawn into at London 2012, and how deeply they progress, the UAE could play at Wembley Stadium, the spiritual home of football.
"I talked to the players before the match, and I said if you want to be more professional, if you want to play in a big club in another country, you have to play in a big tournament," Al Kamali said. "The Olympics in London is the same as the World Cup.
"This dream, our target, was to be there in London, and the players worked very hard.
"This is football and you must give everything to the game, all your powers in the game," he added.
"This is the best win for me, because it's the first time to play in the Olympics, which is like the World Cup."