The UAE face a team with revenge high on their agenda in today's Asian Under 19 Championship quarter-final in China. Two years ago the national side thrashed Australia 3-0 at the semi-final stage of the same tournament in Saudi Arabia on their way to winning their first Asian title. And the Emirates youngsters are in the mood to repeat the result with Ahmed Khalil, the UAE captain, saying his team are hitting form at just the right time.
Khalil, the Al Ahli forward, who finished top scorer in the 2008 tournament, leads the way again with four goals. He knows that victory will bring a double reward - a spot in the semi-finals and a place in the Under 20 World Cup in Colombia next year. "I would like to think that the team has peaked at the right time," Khalil said. "To reach the quarter-finals was always within our reach although we didn't have a great start [a 2-1 loss to Japan].
"We came good in the last game and now we need to take that forward. The win against Vietnam [4-0 in which Khalil scored a hat-trick] has taken the pressure off. "This is the most important game for us because a win means we are playing in the U20 World Cup, which has been our main objective." Juma Rabee, the UAE coach, said the slow start to the competition - the Japan defeat then a 0-0 draw with Jordan - has actually helped his team as they are improving game by game.
"They are determined to show their best against Australia," said Rabee. "Ahmed Khalil and Omer Abdulrahman have hit their best form and there's more to come from them. "They have joined with squad after having played tough games in domestic competition and therefore they did not adapt in the first two starts. Now we can safely assume that they are back to their best and that's why I'm very optimistic."
Khalil and Abdulrahman, the Al Ain midfielder, are also first choices in Srecko Katanec's senior UAE team. They joined the U19 squad in China three days before the start of the tournament straight after their club duties in the Pro League. Jan Versleijen, the former Al Jazira manager who is now with the Australian team, admitted payback is on his mind for that defeat two years ago. "This is a chance for us to get revenge," the Dutchman told the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) website. "I know they are a good team ... but we are full of confidence."
Australia topped Group D after a 0-0 draw with South Korea, who meet Japan today. The victorious team in that match will face the winners of China versus North Korea. Should they beat the Australians, the UAE will face either Uzbekistan, whom they beat in the 2008 final, or Saudi Arabia.
Australia v UAE, 2pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 1