x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Captain's call for fighting spirit

The captain of the UAE Under 20 side has told his team they must play far better than in their previous game if they are to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup.

The UAE's Theyab Awana, front, battles with Hungary's Adam Simon during their match in  Alexandria on October 3, 2009. Hungary won 2-0.
The UAE's Theyab Awana, front, battles with Hungary's Adam Simon during their match in Alexandria on October 3, 2009. Hungary won 2-0.

SUEZ, EGYPT // The captain of the UAE Under 20 side has told his team they must play far better than in their previous game if they are to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup. The Emirates face Venezuela tomorrow after finishing the group stage with a 2-0 defeat by Hungary at the weekend.

"I know my players and I know they can step up their game and play at a higher level," said Hamdan al Kamali. "So I am confident we can meet the challenges of a strong side like Venezuela. We will have to strain every muscle and play to the last of our breath." The UAE were hoping to beat Hungary and stay on in Alexandria as Group F winners, but an error-strewn game saw them concede two early goals in the 2-0 loss.

Finishing second meant the UAE had to leave their base and travel to Suez. "We have turned the page on the defeat against Hungary," added al Kamali. "But, of course, we have not forgotten the lessons from that match. We are not as bad a team as we showed ourselves against Hungary. We had more of the possession and chances, but made just too many mistakes that proved costly. "Every player needs to take a good hard look at his performance and work to eliminate those mistakes. We have to be at our best to reach the quarter-finals and we can do it with a bit more focus."

The Emirates will need to improve in front of goal if they are to progress. They wasted a number of scoring opportunities in all three games and go into the second round with just three goals, the second-lowest total of all teams who made it through to the knockout stage. But Ahmed Khalil, the UAE's talismanic striker, is confident their profligacy will end tomorrow. "We will put all our might in overcoming Venezuela," he said.

"We know we have missed many chances, but I can promise we are working on that and you will see a much better performance. We will be doing our best to get the goals our team needs. Our target is to reach the semi-finals and we are focused on doing that." Khalil's strike partner, Ali Mabkhoot, added: "We respect Venezuela but our ambitions are to go far in the tournament. "So the other teams should better watch out for us. The group stages are behind us now and we are ready to show our true potential and play a strong game against Venezuela. We want to show the best picture of UAE football to the world."

Venezuela scored nine times in the group stage, although eight did come in one game against Tahiti. They also managed to keep a clean sheet in their first two games before conceding three against Spain. The UAE team arrived in Suez on Sunday after a six-hour drive and held their first training session in the city the same evening. Al Kamali was missing the familiar surroundings of Alexandria, but is confident the fans here will lend the same support to his team.

"It was really difficult to leave Alexandria," he said. "The city was very hospitable to us and the fans supported us as much as they did their own national team. "But we are still in Egypt and I know the people of Suez will come out to support us in the same way. The UAE and Egypt are the only two Arab teams here, so I have no doubt they will back us." If al Kamali and his side do get past Venezuela, and Egypt beat Costa Rica, the UAE might find themselves without a supporter in this country, as the two Arab teams will meet in the last eight.

"We know we could meet Egypt in the quarter-finals," said al Kamali. "But for that to happen, we first need to beat Venezuela. So we are not looking beyond that at the moment." arizvi@thenational.ae