x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Team have been together: UAE coach

The Olympic team left yesterday for the Asian Games in China with lofty ambitions having won many titles since 2006.

The country's most successful age-group team have set out on a quest to capture another continental title.

The Olympic team left yesterday for the Asia Games in China with lofty ambitions having won the Under 16 Gulf Cup in 2006, a maiden Under 19 Asian Cup in 2008 and the Under 23 Gulf Cup in Qatar in August.

They also reached the quarter-finals of the Under 20 World Cup in Egypt last year.

"The good thing about this team is they have both the desire and the ability to go on and win another title," Mahdi Ali, their coach, said.

The country's football chiefs have also made that their goal.

They have made it clear their focus was more on the Olympic team's qualification for the 2012 London Games than the senior national team's preparations for the Gulf Cup in Yemen, which starts from November 22.

The Football League (UFL) have postponed this weekend's round nine of the Pro League to minimise the effect on clubs who will have several players on national duty with the Olympic team.

"The changes mean that the UFL clubs will be able to release their players for their Olympic team commitments, allowing optimum preparation time without an impact on the clubs' chances in the league," a UFL statement said.

Instead, the second round of the Etisalat Cup has been re-scheduled for November 4 and 5, while the new date of the round nine of the league will be announced later.

With such high expectations on his team, Ali, who shepherded them all through the success they have enjoyed so far, admits their is pressure carrying the hopes of an entire nation.

But he said: "The advantage we hold is that this team has been together for more than five years and has a good understanding.

"The Football Association have done all they could in our preparation. Even the league games had to be interrupted because we want to travel early to have more time to adapt to the conditions and the time difference.

"So there is a lot of pressure to return with a good result. That's understandable because of the success we have had in the past. My players also understand the high expectations and they are experienced enough to handle that pressure.

The competition includes 24 teams drawn in six groups, and the top two from each will advance to the last-16 knockout round. But the Asian Games will not be a criteria for the 2012 Olympic qualification. The UAE are drawn to play Sri Lanka in the opening qualification round on a home and away format, the first round on February 23 and the return leg on March 9.

"An Asian Games medallion is important for us and it is an ideal competition for our build up for the Olympic qualifiers," added Ali. "Most of the teams will come with the same objective and it will be the same teams as well."

Thirty-five teams have entered for the three direct and one play-off slot reserved for Asia.

The 13 top-ranked teams will go straight through to round two where they will be joined by the 11 winners of first-round qualifying matches between the 22 other teams.

The 24 teams in the second round will play in a home-and-away basis on June 19 and 23 and the 12 winners will then be divided into three groups of four teams in the third round, to be played home and away from September 21 to March 14, 2012.

The group winners will get automatic Olympic slots while the three second-placed teams will play for the chance to meet a Confederation of African Football side for a place at the Games.

Meanwhile, the UAE are in a win-or-bust game with Iraq, the group D leaders, in the Under 16 Asian Cup tonight at the JAR stadium in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Bader Ahmed's side are joint second on two points from draws against Kuwait and bottom side China, who play in tonight's other game.

apassela@thenational.ae