Marcelo, the UAE beach soccer team coach, has welcomed former captain Bakhit Saad's decision to return to the international fold. Saad, a former 11-a-side national team player, retired from beach soccer following the death of his brother Salem, the former international striker who died during training for Pro League side Al Wasl last year.
As wounds from that traumatic event continue to heal, Marcelo believes Saad's decision to reverse his self-imposed exile will galvanise the UAE during this weekend's friendly tournament in Morocco, which starts today. "The squad is settled and mature, but it is great to have Saad back," Marcelo said from Casablanca. "He'll make his international return against Switzerland and although the team played well without him, he will make us stronger."
The UAE face Switzerland today in the first of three friendlies in three days in Casablanca. With Morocco and Oman lying in wait, Marcelo is relishing the prospect of opening against the skilful Swiss, who finished second in last year's World Cup in Dubai. "Our game against them will be tough, but it is good for the boys to be playing against a world-class team," said the Brazilian, whose contract was recently extended until March. "It will help them develop technically and it is the type of challenge we need. We played against Portugal in Dubai, and we've played Brazil and Spain, too.
"These type of games are important: if we get a result it helps give us confidence." After being eliminated in the World Cup group phase, two friendlies against Asian minnows Azerbaijan and a loss to Saudi Arabia in Dammam represent the UAE's only competitive outings since hosting the prestigious tournament in November. With no official matches until October, the UAE are using the Morocco invitational to prepare for sterner challenges on the horizon.
"We have two big competitions coming up and these international friendlies will help us," said Marcelo, a pragmatic disciplinarian. "In October we have the Bahrain Beach Games and in December we have the Asian Beach Games in Oman. We lost the 2008 Asia final to Oman in Bali, so now we have the chance to beat our neighbours in their own house. "We've been training since March, three or four times a week. The team is fit and ready and our preparations have been good. We are ready."
Badr Hareb, the team's administrative manager, concurred with the national coach: "Our internal camp included intense fitness training and we hope to achieve positive results that will lift the players' morale." firstname.lastname@example.org