x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Airport farce leaves the UAE stranded

The Under 20s squad wait for two hours on a plane in Egypt as airport officials waited for a flight to land carrying Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president.

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT // The UAE's preparations for the Under 20 Fifa World Cup descended into chaos yesterday after they were forced to sit on a parked plane for more than two hours as Egyptian airport officials waited for a flight to land carrying Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president.

The UAE squad arrived at Alexandria airport at 11am, but were then unable to disembark the aircraft as airport officials waited for Blatter's plane to land, opting to give that aircraft priority. That plane was running late, but rather than allowing the UAE players and officials to get off, they were forced to wait until Blatter's plane finally arrived and he had entered the airport terminal. This led to chaotic scenes inside the terminal as the media, who had been due to meet with the UAE squad in the VIP lounge at the airport, clashed with airport security as they tried to find out the reason for the delay.

The bizarre incident is unlikely to help coach Mahid Ali's build-up to the event, where he is targeting a semi-final spot. The UAE's opening game of the competition is on Sunday against South Africa in Group F and Ali believes that his side can build on the success of winning the U19 Asian Championship last November with a good run in Egypt. "Our objective is to reach the semi-finals and improve on our achievement at the 2003 World Cup [where they reached the quarter-finals]," he said. "It is a big ambition and will take the kind of self-confidence that we showed in winning the Asian title.

"I love this challenge as coach and I want my team to reach the farthest point possible. But to do that, we will have to strive hard and give all we have. "Everything is possible in football, but we have to first focus on the group games and specifically the opening match against South Africa." The team has been preparing for the competition since last December, spending close to 100 days at training camps at home and aboard and playing 20 friendly matches during that period.

The results in friendly games during the recent camp in Turkey were not encouraging, with defeats against Trinidad & Tobago, Cameroon and Ivory Coast leading to accusations that the players were physically tired from the long build-up. But Ali said: "We lost a few friendly games, but those matches don't count. What we do here is the most important thing. "Of course, there will be a lot of pressure on the team since we are the Asian champions and also flying the Arab flag.

"But these expectations have only raised our spirits. We want to be the heroes of the UAE and Arab fans." Ali is confident that South Africa will hold no surprises for him or his side. "I have a full picture of the South African side," said the coach. "I followed their games at the African Championship and watched them in friendly mat-ches. I also know the level of Hungary and Honduras [the UAE's other group opponents].

"So I am confident that if we play to our potential we will have no problems at the group stage." arizvi@thenational.ae