Mohammed Fawzi has credited continuity and coach Mahdi Ali for the successes of the current crop of UAE youngsters, which includes an Asian title at Under 19 level in 2008 and a quarter-final appearance at the Youth World Cup in 2009. The UAE are competing at the Under 23 Gulf Cup in Qatar, where they have reached the semi-finals, and the players involved will form the squad aiming for the 2012 Summer Olympics. They can qualify for the London Games during the Asian Games in November.
Ali's side meet hosts Qatar tomorrow in the semis, and Fawzi, 20, the Baniyas midfielder, believes the stability in the national team is bearing fruit at the tournament. "Winning this title will go a long way in motivating us at the Asian Games and the qualifying for the 2012 London Olympic Games," he said. "We have a good group here and what really distinguishes this team is the continuity and stability, at both the technical and administrative level, as well as the players.
"We have spent more than four years together and we know each other as well as a family. We all share responsibilities and encourage each other to do our best in every tournament." The UAE reached the semi-finals with a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia and a 1-1 draw against Kuwait. Ahmed Khalil, who plays for Al Ahli, scored both goals and tops the scoring charts in Doha, along with Oman's Mansour al Naimi.
Khalil was part of the team that made the impressive run to the quarter-finals of the Youth World Cup in Egypt last year before losing to Costa Rica. They also won the Asian Under 19 Championship in 2008, without losing a game, and Khalil was named the Player of the Tournament and later Asia's Best Youth Player. The U23 Gulf Cup is being held for just the second time; the senior version will be played for the 20th time in Yemen later this year.
Fawzi believes the tournament is a good addition to the regional football calendar. "We used to watch the Gulf Cup [for seniors] and really enjoy the tournament," he said. "We are playing as an Olympic team for the first time and we really want to do well and compete for the title. We won the Gulf title in 2006, but at youth level. Many members of this team played in that tournament and so it would be great to repeat that success."
He said Ali, the coach, "did a great job of preparing the team". He added: "We played friendly matches against German teams and that really put us in shape for this tournament." Qatar have failed to score a goal in their two group games, but qualified for the semi-finals with a 6-5 penalty shoot-out win over Bahrain. Co Adriaanse, the former Ajax and Porto coach who is now in charge of Qatar's Olympic hopefuls, is expecting a battle against the UAE.
"It is going to be a very tough match for us," the Dutchman said. "The UAE are a strong side and have been playing really good football. The players have really high technical skills, so we will have to be at the top of our game." Fawzi, meanwhile, is balancing his pro football career with his studies for a postgraduate degree in mass communications and hopes to have his own television show some day.
"Media is one of the most exciting disciplines and is really big in the country," he said. "My dream is to host a programme on one of the satellite channels." @Email:email@example.com