DUBAI // Disappointed with their efforts at the Beach Soccer World Cup in Tahiti last month, the UAE will be looking for redemption at home against the world’s best at the Intercontinental Cup.
The UAE left for Papeete with high hopes of progressing beyond the group stages for the first time, at beach soccer’s premier event, but returned home after losing all three of their matches in a group that included eventual runners-up Spain and hosts Tahiti, who finished fourth.
They have an opportunity to make amends at the Intercontinental Cup, which will be held at the Dubai International Marine Club from November 19 to 23, and Thursday’s draw for the tournament should raise their hopes.
The hosts have avoided the two-time reigning world champions Russia and the 13-time world champions Brazil, who were drawn in Group B alongside the Asia champions Iran and the Europe powerhouses Italy. The UAE will battle it out with Morocco, Mexico and Switzerland for the two semi-final spots from Group A.
“The draw is looking good,” said Marcelo Mendes, the UAE national team coach. “It is always good to avoid Brazil and Russia in the first round. But it is important to understand that there are no weak teams in the draw and no easy matches.
“So we need to work hard, respect all our opponents and make sure we do our best in every game, against every opponent. We have reached the last four of this tournament in both editions and last year we finished third, so we have a big responsibility to get there again and try to do better than before.”
In the inaugural Intercontinental Cup, two years back, the UAE finished second in their group, behind Russia and then lost to Brazil in the semis. In the play-offs for third place, the hosts finished 4-4 against Switzerland, but lost 1-0 on penalties.
Last year, they again finished second in their group behind Russia and lost to Brazil in the semis, but they beat Nigeria 8-7 to clinch third place.
These happy memories of the tournament, according to Mendes, should spur his players to put aside their World Cup disappointment and focus on a good show in front of their home fans.
He said the Intercontinental Cup “will be a big mental challenge for the players”, adding: “Believe me, they are very disappointed. Maybe not more than me, but they are very disappointed about our performance at the World Cup because not just the media and the fans, but even us, the team, had very high expectations.
“We travelled to Tahiti thinking we can do something better than before. We had a good preparation, winning tournaments against big teams, but in the end we did not achieve our targets.
“We need to look ahead now. This is the next step and it comes soon after the World Cup. So we need to recover physically and mentally to be ready. The motivation for this tournament should be high among the players because we are playing at home and we should represent the country well.”