The task ahead could hardly be tougher. A victory tonight for the UAE will secure a spot in the second round of the Under 17 World Cup.
UAE aim to end Spain's 21-game unbeaten run
The task ahead could hardly be tougher. A victory tonight for the UAE will secure a spot in the second round of the Under 17 World Cup. However, that win must come against a Spanish side who have not lost in 21 matches and who beat the USA in their first game, despite playing for 88 minutes with 10 men. Despite the daunting prospect, Ali Ibrahim's youngsters appear confident.
"We want to grab three points and ensure an early, direct qualification into the second round," said the Sharjah striker Fahad Salim "Spain played a great game against the USA. So we will have to be really cautious and give more than 100 per cent on the pitch. We know we can do it." The top two from each of the six groups qualify for the next round, along with the four best third-placed teams, meaning that a draw tonight in Kano - or even defeat - would not be the end of the UAE's dream.
The Emirates started their campaign in Group E with a 2-0 win over Malawi on Monday, but victory came at a price, with many players finishing the game with blisters on their feet. "We suffered against Malawi due to the heat and the synthetic pitch made it worse," said Salim. "It was burning hot and many of our players had to seek treatment after the match. But we fought hard to get our first ever win in World Cups and we are going to do the same against Spain."
"We're going to go into the game with a great deal of enthusiasm," said the UAE coach Ibrahim. "We've got the chance to qualify for the next round and we don't want to let any opportunities slip by. It's going to be a very tough match, and totally different to the one against Malawi." The Spanish are certainly a different proposition to the Africans. They have won eight European titles at this age group and did not even concede a goal in their last continental championship. Spain have yet to win the World U17 title, having been runners-up in 1991, 2003 and 2007, but their squad, which contains six youngsters from Barcelona and two from Real Madrid, is one of the strongest in Nigeria.
"The game against UAE is going to be tough. A lot of people don't know about them, but the Emirates have a very good team," said the Spain coach Gines Melendez. "We're going to try and recover from our physical exertions in the first game, and if we can manage that, we'll have a great chance of qualifying for the next round." The UAE goalkeeper Ahmad Shambih, who is likely to be a very busy man tonight, said: "We know Spain are one of the best teams in the tournament."
"But I am hoping I can put up an even better performance than against Malawi and keep another clean sheet. If I can do that, we will be through to the second round." @Email:email@example.com UAE U17 v Spain U17, KO 10pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 3 & ART Sport 3