ABU DHABI // Team Abu Dhabi were rewarded for all their hard work over the last three months when they clinched the inaugural women's amateur Abu Dhabi Football League (ADFL) this week.
The all-Emirati team have been training five days a week since February, helped by Connie Selby, the women's national team coach.
All their efforts paid off as they were crowned the women's sevens champions of the ADFL and received a cheque for Dh8,000 at The Dome in Rawdhat on Tuesday night.
Team Abu Dhabi edged out Tigers for the title on goal difference after the two teams were tied on 13 points in the eight-team league.
"When we first came to know we were playing in this competition, we started to prepare ourselves as we never did before," said Azza al Kaabi.
"We trained five days a week and the result was great. Our next task will be much harder in the National Amateur Football Championship (NAFC) that pits the top four in Abu Dhabi and the top four from Dubai. But winning the ADFL has given us a lot of confidence, but that alone is not enough. We need to be committed and continue to work harder for more success."
According to al Kaabi, it was her teammate Mariam al Omaira's idea to participate in the ADFL.
"She was part of the organising committee and she also took the initiative and encouraged us to play in this competition," al Kaabi said.
"That's how it started. We thoroughly enjoyed playing against team's we've never played before. It was a new experience for us. We had played and won a Gulf sevens tournament two years ago and this is the second time."
She said Selby was important in the side's preparation.
"Connie made her players available for friendly matches and was always ready to help us on whatever we required," said al Kaabi. "She also helped us in the build-up, taught us some of the finer points and how to deal with injuries."
Team Abu Dhabi also enlisted the help of Rania al Atrash, a former Lebanese player, as an assistant coach. Al Kaabi started playing football at the age of 10, playing first with her brothers, then at school and later at the Zayed University where she played for four years, and was the team captain. "When I graduated, we formed this team," she said. "It was a group of friends, and my sister, Shaikha, was the captain. But now it is open for all those interested in playing football at a competitive level."
"We trained very hard for this competition. All our team players were very committed. We have been playing for a long time and we had a good understanding between us."
Al Kaabi believes their participation and success will encourage more Emirati girls to join up and form other teams.
"The ADFL has provided us with an opportunity and we hope more Emirati girls will now start to come out and play," she said. "It will also help the women's national team. They will have a bigger pool of players, and competitions obviously unearth more talent.
Al Kaabi is an ardent fan of Al Ain, the most successful club in the UAE. She is also a big fan of Barcelona and the Spanish club's Argentine striker Lionel Messi.
In the men's amateur league, Mediapro Hawks emerged winners with a cheque of Dh15,000, while Etisalat took the men's corporate title. According to Eric Gottschalk of the organisers Mediapro, the top eight men's amateur and corporate teams will qualify to play with the top eight teams from Dubai, and one from Fujairah, in the NAFC in October.