The UAE have strengthened their claim as one of the teams with the best chance of qualifying for the 2012 Olympics after reaching the final of the Asian Games.
Mahdi Ali's side went down 1-0 to Japan on Thursday in China, but won accolades in a game they dominated. "You can't take anything away from the players," the Emirati coach said. "They had a great tournament and a great final. It's just that we were not fortunate to win the last game, but we made our mark and earned the respect of all the participating nations.
"Reaching the final itself was a big achievement and their performance will serve as a good trial when we start our preparation for the Olympic qualifiers, which is our next goal," said Ali, who has won two regional titles and a continental prize with the team in the last five years.
The Asian Games silver medal is added to the Olympic team's trophy haul of the Under 16 Gulf Cup in 2006, the U19 Asian Cup in 2008 and the U23 Gulf Cup last August. They also reached the last eight in the U20 World Cup last year.
The team fly home today and four players - Hamdan al Kamali, Mohammed al Shehhi, Saeed al Kathiri and Ali al Hosani - will join Al Wahda in their preparation for the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi from December 8 to 18. Srecko Katanec, the national team coach, who is in Yemen with a depleted side in the Gulf Cup, is sure to select many of the Olympic team players for the Asian Cup in Doha, Qatar, from January 7.
The UAE meet Sri Lanka in the two-legged first round of the Olympic qualifying tournament. The away match is on February 23 with the return leg on March 9 at home.