x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The UAE suffer a double injury blow as Humaid Jamal and Mohammed Abbas are ruled out of the Beach Soccer World Cup, but coach Marcelo Mendes remains optimistic about his team’s chances of making it to the knockout stages

Humaid Jamal has fractured his toe and is out for the UAE team for the World Cup in Tahiti. Pawan Singh / The National
Humaid Jamal has fractured his toe and is out for the UAE team for the World Cup in Tahiti. Pawan Singh / The National

The UAE will take on hosts Tahiti in their opening game of the Beach Soccer World Cup without the reassuring presence of Humaid Jamal in their goal.

Jamal, a Club World Cup winner last year with the Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow, fractured a toe in training, just three days before the start of the tournament, and will be replaced by Abbas Moosa of Al Ahli.

The UAE have been forced to make a second change to their 12-member squad as the defender Mohammed Abbas has a minor knee injury. The medical staff believe he will not be able to recover in time for the opening game, he has been replaced by another Ahli player, Qambar Mohammed.

“It is not easy when you have to change your players just three days before the start of the competition,” the UAE coach Marcelo Mendes said from Tahiti. “It is a difficult moment for both the coach and the team, who have been preparing together as a unit.

“But we have to remain positive and I am confident the players who are coming in as replacements are ready to play at the highest level.”

Other than these two setbacks, Mendes believes his team are ready for their World Cup campaign, having “adapted completely” to the “food, weather, sand and the stadiums” on the French Polynesian island.

“The players are responding very well,” he said. “We are staying at the Le Meridien hotel and we have all the facilities available here.

“The food is always a problem when we talk about the Arab players because they don’t have the habit of eating international food when they are at home. But they understand that they are international players and we cannot have their food everywhere. So they are dealing with it really well. The food here, at least, has a lot of sea stuff, nice fish, and they like it.”

The team left for Tahiti on September 9 and they have played friendly matches against two strong South American teams in their build-up to the opening game. They defeated Paraguay 3-2, but lost 4-1 to strong favourites and the 13-time world champions Brazil.

“The two friendly games were very important for us,” Mendes said. “It was important in terms of confidence and it also alerted the players to the fact that the level here is higher than some of the games we played earlier in our preparations.

“The game against Brazil showed this to them. In the first period, our team was very nervous and played under a big pressure, and the Brazilians took advantage to score three goals.

“In the second period we managed to bring our nerves under control and the third period was our best in the game. We took four shots at the Brazilian post and did not allow them to score. That third period against Brazil showed the players that they can play against anyone, face-to-face.”

Before coming to Tahiti, the UAE had won a four-nation competition in Hungary and Mendes said that triumph, and the team’s performance in the two friendly matches, shows they are peaking in time for the opening game. The coach has cautioned against any complacency.

“Now, we cannot afford any more mistakes,” he said. “The next game is against Tahiti and I am sure the players will do their best to get a good result. We need to take it one match at a time from here and not look too far ahead. We will go step-by-step.”

Of the UAE’s opponents in Group A, Mendes said: “Tahiti have been doing well in preparations and I believe they have a good chance in the group.

“Spain is always strong, but at this time they will not have some important players as they have come to the World Cup with a new team [seven of Spain’s players have never been to a World Cup].

“The United States, to be honest, I don’t have much information about them. But they will be our last game in the group and we’ll have some time to analyse them before our match.

“In my opinion, we can spring a few surprises at this World Cup. All the three Asian teams here – Iran, Japan and the UAE – can surprise the world.”

The UAE face hosts Tahiti in their opening match at 9am on Friday. All matches will be shown on Al Jazeera Sports

arizvi@thenational.ae