x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Fifa official gives UAE's Under 17 World Cup stadiums thumbs up

Fifa confident Emirates will validate position as host of the upcoming tournament, although it stressed preparations enter "critical" stage. John McAuley reports.

Inaki Alvares, Fifa's director of competitions, and other Fifa delegates, assess the pitch and facilities at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Delores Johnson / The National
Inaki Alvares, Fifa's director of competitions, and other Fifa delegates, assess the pitch and facilities at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Delores Johnson / The National

ABU DHABI // Fifa is confident the UAE will validate its position as host of the upcoming Under 17 World Cup, although football's governing body stressed preparations are now entering the "critical" stage.

Fifa on Wednesday completed its inspection of the six venues chosen for the event, which begins October 17, with Abu Dhabi's Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium the final site examined.

The capital ground will play a prominent role throughout the competition, as it hosts all three of the UAE's Group A matches as well as select knockout games, including one semi-final and the final. The other selected stadiums are Dubai's Rashid Stadium, the Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium in Al Ain, Sharjah Stadium and stadiums in Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah.

Fifa delegates spent the past five days touring the venues, and informed the Local Organising Committee (LOC) they were satisfied with what they have seen.

Now, though, the baton is passed to the LOC's "venue teams", who must ensure the Emirates are ready to host 24 international sides across 52 matches. Fifa will return in early October for a final assessment.

"What we're finding now, at least for those items that were planned to be finished at this time, is mixed," said Fifa's director of competitions, Inaki Alvarez.

"Overall, on the infrastructure side, I feel positive with where we are and that we can finish.

"But now we need to focus on the people side; getting the venue teams ready. We have a lot to do there yet."

Alvarez is convinced the LOC have the right people in place to provide a well-run tournament, and confirmed the UAE's track record in hosting major Fifa events was pivotal in the decision to stage the U17 World Cup here.

Previously, the Emirates has been entrusted with the U20 World Cup in 2003, the 2009 Beach Soccer World Cup and the 2009 and 2010 Club World Cup.

"The UAE has the experience," Alvarez said. "This will be the largest football event in their history, so it's another step for UAE football. It's a region on the move and the U17 World Cup is a developmental World Cup it's where many stars start so they complement each other. Our expectations should be set high."

While certain the UAE will prove competent hosts, Alvarez was eager to emphasise the level of organisation needed to stage a tournament such as this. He agreed the selected venues have experience in hosting top-flight club matches on an almost-weekly basis, however described the logistics of an U17 World Cup – two matches at a venue in one day, two days of rest and then another two matches – as "very, very different".

"It takes good planning, psychological as well as the preparations," Alvarez said. "So we need to focus on making sure that people can sustain this rhythm over a three-week period.

"We've met with the highest levels already and I feel confident the final push in these next [55] days is going to be very good."

Should the tournament be deemed a success, Alvarez said Fifa will look favourably on the UAE to host other high-profile international events in future.

"The UAE is a member of the football family, so always [it will be considered]," he added.

"We have 13 events - 11 World Cups plus the Olympics. They've done four here, so there's a few others we can work on if UAE football chooses to challenge itself."

Meanwhile, the tournament director, Mohammed bin Bdoua, said he was pleased Alvarez thought the venues were "90 per cent" ready.

However he also underlined there is still work to be done.

"The most important thing is Inaki is happy," Bin Bdoua said. "We're happy, too, that Fifa is satisfied with the venues and there are no negative comments. It's just small things we can improve this week or next.

"I'm sure everything will be set when Fifa return for their final visit in October. The most important thing was for the venues to be ready."

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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