DUBAI // Park Ji, the UAE national table tennis coach, has concerns over the fitness of the country's No 1 player as the hosts start their bid to qualify for the main round of the World Team Cup Classic in Dubai this evening. Rashid Omar, the 22-year-old who will lead the five-man team, is, according to his South Korean coach, feeling the effects of a schedule that has seen the Emirati compete in the World Team Championships in Moscow in May and attend a one-month training camp in Poland in July before travelling to Bahrain for the Arab Championship and then a tournament in Qatar.
"Rashid played really well at the Arab Championship, but these days he looks a little tired," the coach said. "So I am a little worried about this. But I hope he will be at his best in this tournament." Mohammed Rashed, Mohammed al Bahar, Faisal Ahmad and Mohammed Jassem join Omar in the UAE team. They will play four singles matches and one doubles against Nigeria tonight at the Al Nasr Sports Club and Canada and Australia tomorrow in the the Intercontinental Cup - a round-robin tournament that will see the winner qualify to meet Germany, the second seeds, in the first round of the eight-team World Team Classic, which will be played on a knock-out basis starting Thursday.
China are the top seeds and meet Japan in the first round, Austria take on Hong Kong while South Korea have been drawn to clash with Brazil in the other first-round matches of the men's event. The UAE appear to have their work cut out to reach the main draw as Nigeria, Canada and Australia are all ranked higher. The UAE are ranked No 75 in the world, while Canada and Australia are No 45 and 46 respectively.
Nigeria are ranked 30th and are the dominant force in Africa. They will be one of the favourites to win the Intercontinental Cup. Park Ji knows his team have a tough task ahead. "Nigeria are a better team than us," said the South Korean, who is a two-time Asian Games team championship gold medallist. "But if our best players - Rashid Omar and Mohammed Jassem - can do their best, we do have a chance of beating Nigeria. So it all depends on the form of these two players and of course the third player. If they play at their best,there is a possibility of beating Nigeria.
"Australia and Canada are also better teams than us. They are ranked higher than our team. But we just have to try and do our best. The first match is very important. If we can beat Nigeria it will give us the right momentum and we can try to beat the other teams." Even if the UAE fail to reach the main round, Park Ji believes taking part in the tournament will be of great value for the players. "It will be a very good experience for us to play against Nigeria, Australia and Canada," he said. "They are stronger than us, so it will be good for the team."