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Al Jazira, in white, exited the last Champions League at the last-16 stage.
Al Jazira, in white, exited the last Champions League at the last-16 stage.

'Patience needed' as UAE lose Asian Champions League berth

Automatic berths are down to two but expert Al Kaabi sees positives behind the decision.

Kefah Al Kaabi, the football analyst and commentator, feels it is a "blessing in disguise" that the UAE have lost one of their automatic qualifying slots for the Asian Champions League (ACL).

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) this week announced the number of spots each country would receive for 2013. The UAE have gone from three automatic slots and one qualifying spot to two automatic places and two qualifiers.

It means Al Nasr and Al Shabab, who finished second and third in the Pro League, respectively, will face the prospect of a qualifying tie when the draw is made tomorrow. Al Ain, the champions, and Al Jazira, the President's Cup winners, are the UAE's automatic qualifiers.

Al Kaabi feels the three guaranteed places did not reflect the Pro League's level of commitment to the ACL.

"Here in the UAE they don't look at the realities but they want to achieve everything in a hurry," he said. "If you ask the fans a majority of them are not really interested in the ACL because we haven't had any good results from them.

"It is true that Al Ain won it [in 2003, before] the competition was revamped but since then the other teams, especially from Korea and Japan, have got stronger along with clubs in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

"I feel the Pro League clubs will have to bide their time. They need to show a lot of improvements on matching the others in the continental championship.

"It takes time for professionalism to sink in. At the moment all the professionalism is only in talk but there is nothing achieved in reality. For instance, it took Saudi Arabia 22 years to establish a fully professional league."

Al Kaabi thinks that, Al Ain apart, clubs are not geared up for the ACL. "Neither the players nor the fans are in that mindset to achieve good results in this competition, leave aside winning it," he said.

Al Kaabi also was critical that Qatar were given four direct slots, insisting they were no better than the UAE when it came to attendance and on meeting the criteria laid out by the AFC. "I find it very hard to believe because they haven't had big crowds in their stadiums and I doubt if they conform to some of the criteria laid down by the AFC."

Poor Pro League attendances are at the root of the AFC's decision.

"Empty stadiums have been a major issue," said one league official. "It is a huge setback when we are trying to do everything possible to bring the crowds to the stadiums and raise the levels all round in the running of a professional league in the country."

Among various criteria laid out by the AFC - such as organisation, marketing and media facilities - is a requirement that the average attendance in a league be over 5,000. The Pro League recorded an average of 3,240 in 2010/11, and the official said the 2011/12 figures were around 2,800.

The likes of India, Jordan, Bahrain, Lebanon, Vietnam and Singapore were not given a single place in the 2013 tournament, while Australia have lost one of their two guaranteed places.

apassela@thenational.ae

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