x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Football generations

The Gulf Cup victory should not be seen as a one-off, but as the start of something. And the key to future victories lies with continuing to identify and nurture young players, and bringing them together.

It was a closely fought battle, but when Ismail Al Hammadi found the net in the 107th minute, ending a 1-1 stalemate, the nation erupted with joy. Friday night's game against Iraq in Bahrain was a nail-biter to the end, but the UAE held on to claim its second Gulf Cup of Nations winner's trophy, and its first under an Emirati coach.

The victory represents a coming of age for UAE football, and much of the credit for that lies with Mahdi Ali, who also helmed the under-23 team that, in another first, qualified for the Olympics last year. In fact, Ali has been mentoring star players since he signed on as coach of the national youth team in 2008.

The Cup win should not be seen as a one-off, but as the start of something. And the key to future victories lies with continuing to identify and nurture young players, and bringing them together.

Of course, most of the current team are young enough to see more success at regional and international level - and some of them will be looking at lucrative individual club contracts. It is important for the future of the game that there is also a steady supply of youngsters who have the talent and the hunger to win for their country. Now that base camp is established, there are more Everests to climb.