2008 review: The UAE's youngsters showed the way in 2008.
Khalil the real deal for future
The UAE's youngsters showed the way in 2008. With the senior team's World Cup hopes as good as over after collecting just one point from four games, youth came to the fore, winning the Under 19 Asian Championship and reaching the semi- finals of the Under 16 event that gained them two World Cup berths in those age groups. Ahmed Khalil, adjudged th U-19 Player of the Tournament in Saudi Arabia, went on to bag the AFC Young Player of the Year award too.
It was a massive shot in the arm for Khalil, 17, a rising star of the game, and some consolation for the UAE after the senior team's dismal performance so far in the more celebrated competition. Khalil scored twice in his team's 2-1 win over Uzbekistan in the AFC U19 final and the U16 side stunned Australia in the quarter-finals. They went down to the eventual champions Iran 3-0 in the semis. The final round of the Asian World Cup qualifying began with high hopes for the UAE after a favourable draw gave them the opportunity to play the first two matches at home with North Korea and Saudi Arabia.
But they lost 2-1 in both games as early promise quickly faded. There was more disappointment when their French coach Bruno Metsu crossed over to Qatar, leaving his compatriot and assistant Dominique Bathenay to fill the void. Metsu had led them to a historic Gulf Cup in 2007 but went on record saying the players lacked the qualities needed to win games and the UAE didn't have depth in talent. Under Bathenay, the UAE went down to South Korea 4-1 in Seoul and drew 1-1 with Iran in Dubai. The World Cup is a distant dream now, but the Gulf Cup in Oman is just around the corner and Bathenay's team are ready to defend their crown. Hopefully next year may provide something to shout about.