x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Tough group steels UAE's resolve

With their coach claiming they are "90 per cent ready', Mohammed Shehab and Mohammed Al Joker know they will have opportunities to win matches at the Snooker World Cup. They just have to have a little luck go their way to seize the day.

Mohammed Al Joker, above, and teammate Mohammed Shehab are optimistic of giving a good account of themselves at the World Cup. ‘We will have our chances,’ Shehab said.
Mohammed Al Joker, above, and teammate Mohammed Shehab are optimistic of giving a good account of themselves at the World Cup. ‘We will have our chances,’ Shehab said.

DUBAI // The UAE have been drawn into one of the toughest groups at the snooker World Cup, but Mohammed Shehab has warned the team's opponents that they are not there to make up the numbers.

Shehab and teammate Mohammed Al Joker left for Bangkok last night for the tournament, which starts on Monday. They are in a group with China and Australia, the No 4 and No 5 seeds, respectively, as well as Malta and Thailand A.

"We are really looking forward to the start of the tournament," said Shehab. "It's a tough group, so we can only do our best, as always, and see how it goes.

"What we can promise is that none of the teams will be treating us an easy pair. We will make sure they take us seriously, and if they don't, they will get beaten."

The UAE pair will start their campaign against James Wattana, a former world No 3, and Dechawat Poomjaeng, of the Thailand A team, on Tuesday.

"We will have our chances," Shehab said. "We just need to make sure we are playing at our best when those [opportunities] arrive and be in a position to grab them."

A day later, they will take on China, who will be represented by Ding Junhui, the world No 4, and Liang Wenbo.

On Thursday, they will meet the veteran Maltese pros Tony Drago and Alex Borg, before completing their group engagements against Neil Robertson, the 2010 world champion, and Steve Mifsud of Australia, who are seeded fifth for the tournament

Shehab and Al Joker have been preparing for the World Cup for close to two months.

The UAE federation organised a tournament last month towards that cause, inviting the World Cup-bound teams of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Hong Kong to participate.

Shehab and Al Joker reached the final of that tournament and have been fine-tuning their games over the last eight days alongside the English pros Michael Holt, David Roe and Adam Duffy.

"They are great players and really punish you if you make mistakes," Al Joker said of Holt, Roe and Duffy. "So we have learnt a lot and I believe we are ready."

Obaid Khalifa, the UAE snooker coach, said the pair are almost fully prepared for their Bangkok adventure. "Their game is much sharper now, and I believe they are 90 per cent ready for the tournament," he said. "It is going to be a really tough competition, so they will learn a lot from it. But I also hope they will be able to reach the knockout stages. If they can reach the semi-finals in Thailand it will be a great achievement, and a massive boost for the sport in the country."

Khalifa's optimism stems from the format of the World Cup, which makes upsets possible. The matches in the group stages will be of five frames, with both players playing one frame each against their two opponents, and a doubles frame, which involves partners playing alternate shots.

"We have had a few games of that format here and it's quite fun, especially alternative shots in the doubles," Holt said. "It's been quite interesting. So, yeah, I think it's going to be an exciting tournament, and with a bit of luck I think they have got a chance of making some upsets."

He said the UAE duo are not favourites to win the group because of the calibre of competition. "But with the short format, only one frame, it's anybody's [game]. So it can happen. It just needs a bit of luck on the day and if you play well, you never know, really."

Shehab added: "I always say, you don't know what's going to happen in the competition week. You might struggle or you might be flying. We hope we will be flying, and not flying back home early."