x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Success has depleted the U23 team of stars

Despite a number of player promoted to the senior squad, who are currently preparing for World Cup matches, the Under 23 team is still the tournament favourite.

The UAE's most successful age group team are paying the price for their success going into the Under 23 Gulf Cup in Qatar.

They will be missing several leading players when they play their opener against Oman on Sunday, but Mahdi Ali, the coach, believes the squad's togetherness will justify their position as the favourites.

The defending champions will be without Hamdan Al Kamali, Ahmed Khalil, Amer Abdulrahman, Theyab Awana and Adel Al Hosani, who have all drafted to the senior squad preparing for the World Cup qualifiers, which begin with a home match against Kuwait on September 2, while Omar Abdulrahman is recovering from knee surgery.

"We will miss some of the key players as they are in the senior national team, yet we have a pretty good squad," he said.

"To have a squad of young players, particularly a successful one, for more than eight years is the biggest advantage we hold. They have improved every passing year to meet the new challenges. I am confident they will have more success ahead.

"But in football, nothing can be taken for granted. We need to play at our best all the time to be successful. All the teams in this competition will come very hard on us and we need to be ready for any challenge."

Mahdi Ali's squad has had more success than any other age-group team in the country.

apassela@thenational.ae