ABU DHABI // The national women's team begin their defence of the West Asian Championship title Tuesday as they face Syria in the opening Group B tie at the Sultan bin Zayed stadium.
The side clinched the title in March last year, lifting the trophy with a 1-0 win over Jordan, the previous champions.
Fatima bint Mubarak Al Maleh was the match-winner, scoring the only goal of the game following a fine solo run, but she will be absent from this tournament.
Sarah Hasanain, Hakeema Bu Sitta and Manal Al Hammadi are the only survivors from the championship-winning team, who also have a new coach in Hassan Ajenoui, who has only been in charge for a month.
"Obviously, I would prefer to have more time, yet I took up the job as a challenge," Ajenoui said.
"I can only work with what I have and the time period I have had with them. They are pretty good side, and I am very hopeful of a good result in the competition."
The UAE have been draw in Group B along with Syria, Iran and Lebanon.
"I was briefed on my task before I took up this job," Ajenoui said. "I feel we are in a group from which we can qualify for the knockout phase of the competition.
"However, I would like to take one game at a time."
The Moroccan-born Portuguese, who played for Morocco and later coached their national team in 1995, has had only a couple of friendlies against two boys' Under 14 teams in the lead up to the competition.
"I would have wished I had more time to work with the players but that's the task I had undertaken, and I am pretty confident of the challenge ahead," said Ajenoui, who has a tough act in following Connie Selby, the team's previous Australian coach. Until warm-up matches ahead of the West Asian Championship last year, the team had never played an 11-a-side game, let alone featured in an international tournament, yet won the regional championship at the first attempt.
"The pressure is not unusual," Ajenoui said.
"It is a phenomenon that every team will have to go through, and for this team it is understandably more because they are the champions and playing in front of the home crowd."
In Monday's games, Bahrain defeated Iraq 12-0 and Jordan had few issues in defeating Palestine 8-1.