DUBAI // Marcelo Mendes, the UAE beach soccer coach, believes his team will reach the knockout stage at the Tahiti 2013 World Cup, when they make their fourth appearance in the championship of the sport, which comes after missing the 2011 tournament.
In a second significant achievement for the UAE Football Association in eight days, the Emiratis defeated Australia 3-2 at Doha on Saturday to book their place at the World Cup, scheduled from September 18 to 28 in the capital of French Polynesia, Papeete.
On January 18, the UAE won the Gulf Cup on the grass of Bahrain.
In Qatar, the two-time Asian champions took the third and final Asian slot in the 16-nation tournament, finishing behind Iran and Japan. Mendes's men had earlier romped through their group with emphatic wins over Saudi Arabia (6-3), Palestine (5-2) and Uzbekistan (7-1), but lost 3-2 to Iran in the semi-finals.
"I am very proud of my boys and I congratulate them," Mendes said. "We have proven we are one of the big teams in Asia.
"Now we are planning a big project to prepare the team well. I am sure we are at a level that, if we have a good preparation and give more experience to our players through camps, travelling and playing more matches, we can do something better than before.
"My expectation is to pass the first round because this team has this potential. I am not saying this just because I am the coach but because I believe we have good players and a good team to reach the second round.
"In the second round, it is knockout and anything can happen if you are lucky and meet a team that is better for you to play. So let's wait for the draw and see who we find in our group. We know we can make a good tournament there in Tahiti."
This will be the UAE's first appearance at the World Cup since it became a biennial event from 2011. They missed out on the trip to Italy two years ago after finishing fourth in the Asian qualifiers, losing 2-1 to eventual champions Japan in the semis and then 6-2 to Iran in the third-place play-off.
"It is something that we really missed," Mendes said. "We have played three World Cups and it was very difficult for us" not to have qualified for the last World Cup "because we know we have a good team we believe we could have made a good tournament in Italy in 2011.
"So for us, it's like a child who had lost his toy. When you find it, it is something unbelievable."
He said for veteran players such as Qambar Mohammed, Mohammed Abbas and Ali Karim, "it is amazing for them to have another chance to play a World Cup".
Qambar Mohammed, the UAE captain, said: "For Tahiti 2013, we are excited to be the only Arab team qualifying from Asia, and are really looking forward to furthering our training."
The UAE made three consecutive appearances at the World Cup - from 2007 to 2009 - when it was an annual event, and failed to make it beyond the group stages. At Rio de Janeiro as Asian champions in 2007, the UAE finished at the bottom of their four-team group on their World Cup debut.
Next year, in Marseille, France, the UAE notched their first World Cup win, defeating Cameroon 10-4, but the Asian champions still finished third in the group. Playing at home in 2009, Mendes's team drubbed Solomon Islands 7-1, but defeats to Portugal (7-5) and Uruguay (4-0) scuppered their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages.
Mendes is hoping his team will be fourth-time lucky, his optimism stemming from the growing profile of the sport in the UAE, which now has a beach soccer league, and the hard work of the players and officials.
"We have been working really hard since the Intercontinental Cup, where we played really well," he said, referring to an October tournament in which they finished third. "We are doing a lot of work to bring in new players. We tried to give them experience at the Intercontinental Cup and friendly matches. So I believe we are on the right path."
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