x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A cold front is approaching for UAE Olympic side

"I have found that in the UAE, even a temperature of 10°C, especially if there is wind, the players believe it is very, very cold."

The UAE Olympic national team could be playing in temperatures of 5°C and there has been a forecast of a 40 per cent chance of rain.
The UAE Olympic national team could be playing in temperatures of 5°C and there has been a forecast of a 40 per cent chance of rain.

The Buccaneers of the National Football League are based in the balmy Florida city of Tampa, where today's weather forecast almost certainly is "sun". As is tomorrow's. And the next day's. Rather like it would be in the UAE.

The Buccaneers do, however, play the occasional winter game in the frozen north-east or mid-west of the United States. Not that the coaches of the Bucs ever were willing to concede that bone-chilling temperatures, or snow, or sleet, might distract or discomfit their sun-soaked athletes. How, then, to explain that the Buccaneers lost the first 20 games they played when the temperature at kick-off was 4°C or less? Zero victories, 20 defeats over a span of 26 years. Not until they assembled the greatest team in club history, which was about to win the Super Bowl, did they emerge victorious in a cold-weather game.

A warm-weather side of far greater local interest will soon play a crucial game in less-than-ideal conditions - that being the UAE's Under 23 team in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on Wednesday.

At stake: a place in the London 2012 Olympics.

The Emirati players and coaches arrived in Tashkent yesterday. According to weather reports, they were met by snow flurries and a temperature barely above zero.

Will they be daunted? Diminished? At a disadvantage to the Uzbeks who live and train in the chilly climes of central Asia?

Josef Hickersberger, the coach of the Pro League side Al Wahda, knows cold; he is a native of Austria, where he played and coached. "I have found that in the UAE, even a temperature of 10°C, especially if there is wind, the players believe it is very, very cold," he said.

The record-low temperature for Dubai is 7°C, according to the Dubai Meteorological Office. The forecast for Tashkent on Wednesday: a high of 12°C, a low of 5°C and a 40 per cent chance of rain.

It is hard to deny that teams travelling to colder climes often encounter hard times. Manchester City, for example, suffered a fatal Europa League defeat in subzero conditions at Dynamo Kiev a year ago.

Teams based in cold climates certainly regard bad weather as an ally. Ahead of a Champions League match with Real Madrid last month, the CSKA Moscow centre-back Sergei Ignashevic said: "When you step out in the freezing cold, your mind gets foggy and you can't concentrate on anything, like you are falling asleep. And something similar happens when you are running in the freezing cold - you dream about it being over so you can go inside and warm up. That's when it's really cold."

Barring a freakish weather front, the UAE will avoid freezing cold when the game kicks off at 6pm (5pm UAE) at JAR Stadium in Tashkent. (And they also may remember that Madrid held CSKA 1-1 in arctic Moscow.)

More than rain and snow, a frozen pitch represents the greatest challenge for footballers, Hickersberger said, because of the difficulty in finding footing.

"But even two or three centimetres of snow can change how you play," he said. "You cannot play short passes. You kick and rush and fight for the second ball."

Another UAE team, Al Jazira, did not seem distracted by Uzbekistan weather last week. A blizzard postponed their match in the city of Qarshi, so the Pro League side returned in milder conditions the next day and overpowered the Nasaf club 4-2 in an Asian Champions League match.

The Football Association have gone to great lengths to prepare their U23 players for cold weather. The team spent 10 days training and playing friendlies in Turkey, where conditions were not far different from those of Uzbekistan.

Kefah Al Kaabi, a television and radio pundit, believes the UAE's U23s have the strength to persevere in any conditions.

"This team is always successful, from the start, when they were kids," he said. "When you put them in a situation where they have to win, they are always winners. They have this mentality."

Perhaps it could be as simple as the proper frame of mind.

Said Hickersberger: "I have gotten the feeling that the players here, if they want to play a good match and they want to concentrate, they can get over these negative feelings and the cold. It's a matter of motivation and maturity, and not the weather. If the referee blows his whistle and says it's OK, then there is no need to discuss the weather."

Said Al Kaabi: "If you have the guts and the goal, it is easy."

So far, this team has indicated it has both.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

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