ABU DHABI // The two young UAE footballers could not hide their excitement as they looked at the Fifa Under 17 World Cup trophy.
One of the most important football events ever to be held in the country begins next month – and Mohammed Al Akbari and Sultan Al Shamsi are both determined to win the trophy for their country.
They were at Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi where the trophy was beginning its tour of the six host cities. It will leave Abu Dhabi on Saturday before being shown in Al Ain, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, Sharjah and Dubai.
It will finally be returned to the capital for when the tournament kicks off at 5pm on October 17, with Brazil playing Slovakia at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, followed by the UAE’s first match against Honduras at 8pm.
On the same day, Uruguay will play New Zealand at 5pm at Ras Al Khaimah’s Emirates Stadium, followed by the Ivory Coast playing Italy at 8pm.
Al Akbari, a 17-year-old striker for Al Wahda, said being so close to the trophy was a great motivation for the players
“Our preparation has been really good. We’ve been abroad on training camps for the past couple of months. We have played with teams from older age groups and haven’t felt the difference in age or performance, which is a good indication.
“Literally, the moment I saw the cup I felt happy and motivated because I was so close to it – it is such an inspiration to me. I hope that in addition to having the tournament on my home soil, that I hold the trophy in the final.”
He said hosting the tournament was another point in the UAE’s long list of achievements.
“There is a huge responsibility playing on my home soil but this doesn’t make me feel pressure. I feel more motivated and more determined to represent my country in the best way possible.”
Al Shamsi, a midfielder for Al Jazira, said seeing the trophy made him believe the UAE could win.
“It’s a great feeling to finally see what we will be fighting for at this tournament. Every match we play is a step closer to this.”
The team will travel to Spain for a final training camp before the tournament starts.
Mohammed bin Bdoua, the tournament director, said the UAE was chosen because Fifa knew it would be “ready for anything that comes our way”. He added that this year’s tournament would be one of the most unforgettable in the event’s history.
“When I look into the young players’ eyes and see how they are looking forward to the cup, I feel happy,” he said.
“We hope our national team will do well in the tournament, and we hope all the teams will come here and leave happy with how the tournament went.”
The tournament, one of the largest international football competitions, takes place every two years. This year, 52 matches will be played from October 17 to November 8 in the UAE’s best stadiums. As well as the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium matches will be played at Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, Ras Al Khaimah’s Emirates Stadium, Fujairah Stadium, Sharjah Stadium and Dubai’s Rashid Stadium.
This year, 24 qualifying nations will begin in six groups of four. Two teams in each group will progress to the last 16. The UAE will face Brazil, Honduras and Slovakia in its first round.
Tickets are Dh10 or Dh50 and can be bought at Hallmark stores across the country and at Trophy Tour’s stalls.
Alternatively, call 800 STADIA or visit www.fifa.com/u17worldcup