Organisers are convinced the country's thirst for football will ensure its success. John McAuley reports.
Fifa Under 17 World Cup 'important' tournament for the UAE
DUBAI // Organisers of the Fifa Under 17 World Cup are convinced the UAE's thirst for football will ensure it proves a success with supporters.
Tickets for the event, which begins on October 17 and ends on November 8, went on sale yesterday, with fans able to watch 24 international teams and 52 matches spanning five emirates in a tournament billed as promoting "the legends of tomorrow".
The event is the fifth Fifa competition staged in the UAE – the U20 World Cup in 2003, the 2009 Beach Soccer World Cup and the 2009 and 2010 Club World Cup preceded it – providing the Local Organising Committee (LOC) with the confidence that this, too, will be a popular tournament.
"Only in the next week will we be able to gauge interest, through visitors to the website and the number of calls to the direct line but, from talking to people before today, there's a real excitement," said Mohammed bin Bdoua, the tournament director.
"This is a very important event for the UAE, but especially young people.
"They all love football; it's a worldwide language.
"Everyone knows Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. We'll try to find the new Messi and the new Ronaldo in this tournament."
Venue packages are now available, which allow supporters to purchase a ticket at a discounted rate for every match held at a particular stadium. Each venue offers two ticket categories, ranging from Dh35 to Dh240, dependent on the fixture's location.
The LOC are confident the tournament will be a sell-out, and expect interest to spike once the draw is made on August 26.
"The sales target, of course, is 100 per cent," said Bin Bdoua.
"We'll start by releasing 10 or 20 per cent and see how they're selling, then after the draw we expect sales to really accelerate because fans will know which teams are playing where.
"But we're sure this'll not just be for Emiratis, but expats and football fans from around the world."
Bin Bdoua said the presence of Omar Abdulrahman, currently the UAE's most celebrated footballer, as the event's ambassador will be integral to its appeal.
A number of public engagements are planned immediately following the draw, including an extensive tour of schools across the Emirates.
There is a sense among organisers that the U17 World Cup represents the most significant event the UAE has hosted, although they were reluctant to compare the potential match attendances to its U20 sibling, which in 2003 averaged 11,000.
The home nation's performance could therefore be crucial to the turnout, although it is a challenge Rashid Amir, the UAE coach, maintains his young team will embrace.
"The players are not aiming just to participate, but striving to win the title," he said.
"Some of them are aiming to be voted the best players of the tournament. They are so enthusiastic about the event. The UAE will surprise everybody in this tournament.
"It's a huge honour for the country to have such a big-scale international event on home soil. The LOC are well prepared and have put so much effort, time and money into making sure this is the best it can be."
What Fifa Under 17 World Cup
When October 17-November 8
Where Various locations throughout the emirates
Tickets Available at www.fifa.com/u17worldcup; 800 STADIA (800 782342) inside the UAE; outside the UAE 971 56 225 5927
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