x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Future is bright for Emirates

The UAE U19 squad are just one match away from winning the Asian Football Confederation Under-19 Championship.

The UAE's senior national team are still some way from achieving their dream of qualifying for a World Cup finals, but the success of the country's junior sides promises a much brighter future for the nation's footballers. The U19 squad are a match away from winning the AFC Under-19 Championship, and places in the U17 and U20 World Cup finals are already assurred. The U19 side will play Uzbekistan in Friday's final in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, and confidence is high after the 3-0 semi-final win over Australia on Tuesday night.

The continental crown would be a just reward for a team that has cruised into the final without losing a game, beating far more fancied sides on the way. The success of the juniors has not come by chance, with Yousuf Abdullah, the FA's general secretary, expecting this U19 side to stay together for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. "Our strategy has been to invest in youth and it is paying off - they have always been our focus," he said.

"This group have been together for a long time. They have been preparing for four years now. They won the GCC Cup and they are our future Olympic team." The UAE dropping three places to 113th in the latest Fifa world rankings, announced yesterday, and have no points from their three games in the final stage of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup finals. But althoughDominique Bathenay's side can all but write off a trip to South Africa in two years' time, Abdullah said the UAE could push much closer for the 2014 finals in Brazil.

"The U19 side are a very talented lot and we have a lot of hope from this group for the future," he said. "We will take care of these boys and make sure they continue on the path of progress. "Two have already played for the senior team and soon there will be many others coming through. This batch has created grounds for a bright future and optimism. "Their success could not have come at a better time.

"When people are talking about the falling standards of UAE football it shows that we are moving in the right direction." While the spotlight is on the juniors this week, it will shift back to the senior side when they host Iran on Nov 19 at Al Nasr club in Dubai. With losses to North Korea, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, the UAE must record a victory to resurrect any hope of qualification. arizvi@thenational.ae