x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Olympics: Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and co hold no fear for UAE

Midfielder Khamis Esmail says they are not at the Games 'to play three matches and go home'

Uruguay's footballer Edinson Cavani scored a goal in a friendly match against Chile's U25 national team on July 11.
Uruguay's footballer Edinson Cavani scored a goal in a friendly match against Chile's U25 national team on July 11.

MANCHESTER // Mahdi Ali says his UAE Olympic team are "not scared" of Uruguay, their highly regarded opponents in their London 2012 group opener at Old Trafford tonight.

"We are here to show that a small country in size can have a big passion for the game," the Emirati coach said at a media conference yesterday. "The opening game is very crucial to our campaign, and Uruguay have a strong side. But we will not make it an easy encounter for them.

"We are not scared by big names like [Luis] Suarez."

Suarez is a Liverpool forward and, in tandem with Edinson Cavani of Napoli, he gives Uruguay one of the most potent attacks in the tournament.

Suarez said the South Americans have prepared correctly for their first opponents. "We have spoken about our opponents and know what kind of players they have," he told Fifa.com.

Ismail Matar, the Emirati captain, shrugged off a British media assessment of the UAE as the weakest team in the football tournament.

"The UAE do not have big names but the players have great self-confidence," he said.

Since securing a place in the London 2012 Games, the Emiratis have spoken often about staging a surprise or two in England. This game would be a good time to spring one.

"It's better that people say we will go out in the first round because this is less pressure for us," said Khamis Esmail, the midfielder.

"We will make a big surprise when we are one of the two teams to go to the next stage. We want to show the people that we are not here only to participate for three matches and go home. No, we want to do more."

Group A is a formidable one and includes Team Great Britain, the hosts, as well as Senegal and Uruguay, whose senior side are ranked No 3 in the world.

Uruguay have never lost in 10 Olympic matches, but their most recent was in 1928. The UAE can respond with a statistic of their own: the age-group side who make up the bulk of the Olympic team have never failed to get out of the group stage of a tournament.

Yousuf Al Serkal, the FA president, said Mahdi Ali will prepare the game plan, but he hopes the Emiratis will go out to the attack.

"In this strong group, the goal should be playing to win," he said. "If we play to draw, that will be dangerous. Be careful and play to win. If we draw, it's a good start, but losing is something we have to try to avoid one way or another."

Mahdi Ali confirmed that none of the Emirati footballers are fasting, despite this being the Holy Month of Ramadan, and he added that neither is he.

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