DUBAI // Yousuf Al Serkal, the president of the Football Association, has described the Asian Football Confederation's decision to reduce the number of direct entries from the Pro League into the Asian Champions League as fair. He also said the disappointing performances of our clubs in the continental championship were to blame for the decision.
The UAE has enjoyed three direct entries to the Champions League, and one through the play-offs, since the competition was relaunched in 2009, but for 2013, the country will have only two direct participants – the Pro League champions Al Ain and the President's Cup winners Al Jazira.
Al Nasr and Al Shabab, who finished second and third in the league, will get a chance to qualify for the group stages through the play-offs.
"We lost our seats in the Champions League because of our results in the competition and the poor attendance at matches," Al Serkal said at a news conference today. "It was not because of a lack of infrastructure or other requirements.
"In recent years, none of our teams have progressed beyond the first round except once and that happened last season. The problem is if our teams lose a match or two, they give up and stop taking the competition seriously."
In the last four years, Al Jazira and Baniyas are the only UAE clubs to reach the second round. They achieved that distinction earlier this year, with Jazira going through the group stages without losing a game before their loss on penalties to the Saudi Arabia club Al Ahli, the eventual runners-up, in the round of 16, Baniyas were beaten 7-1 by Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia.
In the previous three years, Jazira had won just one of their 18 matches. Over the past four years, UAE clubs have played 91 matches in the Champions League, winning 22 of them and losing 48. They scored 105 goals in those matches and conceded 157.
Clubs from the neighbouring Arabian Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have done a lot better in the competition. Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad and Al Ahli have reached the final and Qatar's Al Sadd won the title in 2011.
"Our Qatari brothers had two seats [in 2009 and 2010, and two and a half in 2011], but they have now reached four seats because of Al Sadd's victory in 2011," Al Serkal said. "So evaluation of a league's performance in the continental championship also counts."
Al Serkal, who will be contesting the upcoming elections for the presidency of the AFC, is hoping clubs from the UAE will do better in the Champions League and help in fulfilling his dream of seeing the UAE figure among the continent's top footballing nations.
"Our goal is to be one of the top three teams in Asia and I believe that is possible," he said, talking about his plans for the national team. "Once we reach that position, we have to make sure we stay there.
"That is why we need to keep working on the future generations so that there is no vacuum, like it happened with the generation of 1990 [the side who reached the World Cup finals], when we did not pay enough attention to the age groups.
"That meant there were no replacements after that generation left the stage around 1996 and it took us more than 10 years to recover. We are trying to make sure that does not happen again."
Increasing the number of teams in the Pro League to 14 from 12 is also part of that process, Al Serkal said, because it gives more opportunities for Emirati players to play regularly in the top division.
The UAE football chief is also not happy to see four foreign players playing for each club because it "adversely affects the national team" and he hopes to see those numbers shrink, but conceded that decision can only be made by the professional league and the clubs.
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