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David Coles, the Al Jazira goalkeeping coach, centre, is confident either Ali Kasheif or Khalid Essa could do well in goal for the UAE Olympic team in London.
David Coles, the Al Jazira goalkeeping coach, centre, is confident either Ali Kasheif or Khalid Essa could do well in goal for the UAE Olympic team in London.

Friendly battle ahead at Al Jazira to be UAE's Olympic No 1

Ali Kasheif and Khalid Essa are the Abu Dhabi club's top keepers, and they seem to be the leading candidates for the same job.

David Coles knows an elite goalkeeper when he sees one. That bodes well for the UAE Olympic team because one of the Emiratis he coaches at Al Jazira is likely to be between the sticks at London 2012.

Ali Kasheif and Khalid Essa are the Abu Dhabi club's top keepers, and they seem to be the leading candidates for the same job when Mahdi Ali's Olympic team play their first match in England, on July 26.

"Ali obviously was the goalkeeper of the year in the UAE last season, and rightly so," Coles said. "I think he's one of the best goalkeepers in the UAE. But I've got the other one, as well. I think I'm quite lucky."

The "other one" would be Essa, who was Jazira's No 1 for the first half of the current season and also the Olympic team's choice for the final five matches in London 2012 qualifying, a stretch which included three clean sheets and the high-tension 3-2 victory at Uzbekistan.

Before arriving in the UAE last summer, Coles coached goalkeepers for 13 seasons in the English Premier League, at Southampton, Portsmouth and West Ham United. Among the men he counselled were David James and Robert Green, who were England's goalkeepers at the 2010 World Cup.

Kasheif and Essa will receive direct coaching from the UAE Football Association when they report to a pre-Olympics training camp in June, Essa as the incumbent No 1, Kasheif as one of the dozen "over-age" players invited to join the Under 23 players.

In the meantime, the duo are in the capable hands of Coles, 47, who has unconventional ideas about how to build a better goalkeeper, and radiates enthusiasm and fast-twitch energy.

He is the man who brought boxing and swimming to the training room and also is convinced that tennis is a fine way to train a goalkeeper. "All about footwork, isn't it? Side to side, forward and back."

He concedes his men at Jazira, including third-choice Khalid Al Sinani, were a bit puzzled by his ideas but eventually discerned method in his madness.

Coles believes that what happens in the training room is as important as what happens on the grass, and his goalkeepers certainly have delivered with strong efforts.

Essa, 22, had limited high-profile experience until last summer, when Kasheif, 24, had knee surgery. The younger man was Jazira's keeper in the Super Cup, and for 10 Pro League matches, and he might have racked up a few more, but then he went off to the U23s for their memorable three-game winning streak that vaulted the UAE into the Olympic football tournament for the first time.

Kasheif regained his No 1 spot in the Jazira hierarchy while Essa was away and has not given it back. The man who led the Pro League with eight clean sheets last season has tacked on three more since his return. He also made numerous wondrous stops during Jazira's three Asian Champions League victories, evoking memories of his remarkable 2010/11 campaign, when Jazira took the league and President's Cup double.

Their season is generally remembered for a blizzard of goals, but those paying attention remember how many "impossible" saves Kasheif made for a side often caught with numbers upfield. He may have been their most valuable player.

Coles analysed his top two.

"Ali is a big big-game player," he said. "He's very confident. He's got an aura around him. When he walks in a room, he turns heads, like David James did in England.

"And when he's in goal, he effects people through that. His personality and his command, and he is a sight, physically," at 1.84m and 92kg.

"Essa is very athletic and he reminds me of a man I had at Portsmouth, the Finnish goalkeeper Antti Niemi.

"He's broad-shouldered but narrow, like Niemi, and he's very calm and collected. He gets his respect from making fantastic saves. He's not the tallest or the biggest [at 1.76m and 70kg] but he is a special goalkeeper who could play at a higher level.

"Ali and Essa: I couldn't say who's better."

Coles said their rivalry is friendly, even with the high-visibility Olympic matches looming. "I don't think it's a 'You've got my place, I want your place' situation. They respect each other and are good with each other.

"Both of them know they're probably going to London for the Olympics and both have their heads down and are working hard, smiling, and see what happens at the end of the day."

He has told them what is ahead. "The London Olympics will be massive," he said. "Massive."


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