ABU DHABI // An event of international repute will always leave its mark in a country that is not big on that particular sport. Rugby and cricket, for instance, are growing as sporting disciplines across the UAE, albeit gradually. And this is exactly why Mohammed Arif expects ice hockey to capture the imagination of the Emirati public.
Arif, a key player in the UAE national team, is of the firm belief that the second Challenge Cup of Asia will have an impact in the long term. "We won the bid ahead of Chinese Taipei to stage this championship, which was a massive step forward in creating an awareness of such an important competition among the Emirati youth," he said yesterday. "We already have a huge following even though most of the youngsters play for recreation. We need to make them play at more competitive levels so we have a larger squad to select for the national team.
"The facilities are top class and so is the infrastructure in other Gulf states. We don't have teams from the region, but after this championship we would have got their interest," he added. The UAE, in the meantime, kicked off their campaign with an impressive 7-0 win over Macau, but Arif warned the tougher games were ahead. "A win is a win against any team," said the UAE defender. "I was quite surprised Hong Kong were held to a 1-1 draw by Singapore. And it only goes to show how much Singapore have improved.
"Macau were the least fancied team in our group and I thought they tried to keep the scoreline to the minimum. It was a confidence booster to get the campaign off to a winning start." Ali Mubarak al Mazrouie scored in the opening minute and went on to complete a superb hat-trick for the UAE. Omar al Shamsi found the net twice for a 5-0 lead at the second break before Juma al Dhaheri and Suhail al Muhairi completed the rout with a goal each.
Hong Kong scored a late equaliser for a 1-1 result with Singapore in the same group, while Malaysia overcame Mongolia 4-0 in Group A. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org