ABU DHABI // The UAE went down to a late goal against a select team but their hopes remain undiminished as they prepare for the seventh Asian Winter Olympics in Almaty, Kazakhstan, from January 28 to February 6.
Juma Abdulla al Dhaheri, the captain, had opened the scoring in the ninth minute in the first of the three 20-minute periods last night.
But the select side, made up of some of the best players in the region, rallied to level the score 2-2 before clinching the game and the five-match series 3-2 at the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink last night.
"We are leaving one week earlier so the players will have enough time to train and adapt. And also play a couple of friendlies," said Khalid al Qubaisi, a former player and now the team manager of the Ice Hockey Association.
"We played against the strongest players and it was really good preparation. The result doesn't matter but the players have learned a lot from the five matches. The teams in our group are not as strong as the opposition we played in the five friendlies. They were all very close games but technically the players have gained from the matches."
The UAE will play in the division II of the ice hockey championship and travel with a 23-player squad on Friday. "The preparations have gone pretty well and we are ready for the competition," said Khalid al Habsi, 34, a defender and long-time member of the national team.
"We have been training five days a week, twice a day, and three hours each. The team is almost the same that had been together when winning the Asian Challenge Cup in Abu Dhabi in 2009 and when runner-up last year to Chinese Taipei.
"Obviously we are travelling with high hopes of winning the championship. We play Kuwait and Mongolia, against whom we haven't lost in the previous meetings. Kyrgyzstan is the other team in the group, but we are told there have been a change in the draw and we may not meet them, instead facing another team.
"The five-match friendly was well contested and was the ideal way to prepare the squad. The opposition was made up with some of the best expatriate players in the domestic league, the kind of opponents, or even stronger than the opposition, we may face in the championship."
The UAE team shot into prominence after winning the Asian Challenge Cup, defeating Thailand in the final, when they hosted the championship in Abu Dhabi. Following that success, they also qualified to play in the World Championships division III in Luxembourg early last year.