DUBAI // Braving the searing summer temperatures, the UAE national beach soccer team have been training six days a week at Al Mamzar Beach Park, and their coach Marcelo Mendes is hoping their hard work will be rewarded at September's Beach Soccer World Cup in Tahiti.
Making their fourth appearance at the World Cup, the UAE have been drawn in the same group as the hosts, the Concacaf champions United States and the two-time World Cup runners-up Spain.
They will open their campaign against Tahiti on September 19 and meet Spain two days later before finishing their group engagements against the US.
In three previous appearances at the championship the Whites have failed to make it beyond the group stage, but Mendes is confident his current squad has the quality and the will to make it to the knockout stages at Tahiti.
"We are doing the best we can in preparation and working really hard in training," Mendes said. "The players are very motivated to play the World Cup. We're aiming to reach the quarter-finals and I am confident it is within our reach.
"The draw has given us an excellent opportunity to reach the knockout stages and the players also have a lot more experience now. We also have a bigger squad to choose from."
Nineteen players are training with Mendes at Mamzar, and to give all of them an opportunity to play the UAE fielded two teams at last week's friendly tournament, where Oman and Belarus provided the international flavour.
The UAE national team started with a 3-1 loss to Belarus but bounced back to beat Oman 5-2.
Radiff UAE, the hosts' second team, lost 4-1 to Oman in their first game but bounced back to beat them 4-3 in extra-time and were 3-3 at the end of regulation against Belarus before losing 4-3 in extra time.
Mendes was pleased with the performance of the Radiff players and expects a few of them to make a strong bid for a place in the World Cup squad, mentioning Ahmed Bashir, in particular.
"We have some new players in the team and I wanted to give these players a chance as well in the friendly matches," Mendes said. "It gives us the opportunity to evaluate these players and then decide if we should pick them for the first team."
The UAE's World Cup preparations will take them to Belarus next month for a friendly tournament, where Turkey, Holland, Ukraine, Iran and the hosts will provide stiff tests for Mendes's side.
The team is then expected to travel to the Asian Football Confederation Cup that will be held in China from July 12-14, but are waiting for an approval from the UAE Football Association.
"On July 1, we will travel to Belarus," Mendes said. "This tournament will be very strong as we will play against big teams from Europe. So it will be a good preparation.
"For the tournament in China, we have not got an approval yet. So I am not sure if will go or not. We are still waiting for the UAE federation to approve it. If we don't go to China, then we will follow our second plan: maybe during Ramadan, we can organise a local tournament or invite some teams here to play against us.
"For Tahiti, we will travel one week before and play a couple of friendly games before our first match."
ON THE ROAD
The UAE beach soccer team’s tentative schedule into the World Cup
A friendly tournament in Belarus including sides from Iran, Holland, Turkey, Ukraine and the hosts.
The AFC Cup, in China
Travel to Papeete, Tahiti
Group A World Cup match with Tahiti
Group A World Cup match with Spain
Group A World Cup match with US
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