x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE beach soccer team building momentum before World Cup

A third-place finish in a tournament at Belarus has the the UAE's Brazilian coach, Marcelo Mendes, upbeat about his team's build up to the World Cup matches at Tahiti in September, writes Amith Passela.

A UAE player, in white, battles for ball control with a Nigeria player back in a tournament at Dubai in November. The UAE recently returned from a tournament in Belarus finishing third. Mike Young for The National
A UAE player, in white, battles for ball control with a Nigeria player back in a tournament at Dubai in November. The UAE recently returned from a tournament in Belarus finishing third. Mike Young for The National

Marcelo Mendes, the UAE coach, is pleased with his team's improvement as they prepare for their fourth appearance at the Beach Soccer World Cup in Tahiti in September.

They UAE clinched third spot in the Belarus International tournament, edging out the hosts in a penalty shoot-out 9-8 after a 4-4 deadlock in the event played at the weekend.

The UAE went down 3-2 to Iran in the opener and bounced back to defeat Poland 5-4 for a showdown with Belarus in the play-off for third place.

It was a performance that gave Mendes the most encouragement.

"The first game against Iran was the widely regarded as the best match of the tournament," he said.

"It was a fighting game.

"We played well in the second and third periods but not just good enough to win. The Iranians played an excellent game and also had the luck on their side.

"We played very well to defeat Poland, and considering that they recently won a European League Stage, it was a very good result for us. We were leading all the time and the margin of victory could have been bigger in this game."

In the play-off, the UAE were up against the hosts, who were backed by more than 1,000 home fans.

"It was a good experience for our players thinking about what we will find in Tahiti - the opening World Cup game is against the hosts. The players showed that can overcome this pressure," Mendes said.

"It was a strong and physical game. We had some chances to finish the game during the regular time. Unfortunately some defensive mistakes combined by poor play from some of our key players made the match more difficult than we expected.

"However, in the end we achieved third place by converting all nine attempts at the goal [in the shoot-out], overcoming the pressure that came from outside the pitch."

The tournament in Belarus was the first part of the team's preparation for their World Cup campaign.

They travel to China for the Asian Football Confederation Cup this week with a Radiff Team (the second string team) and a few players drawn from the first team.

"This tournament will provide me an opportunity to finalise the World Cup squad of 16 players to send to Fifa in August," the Brazilian Mendes said of the event that begins on Friday.

After that, the UAE will participate in a tournament involving Ukraine, Germany and hosts Hungary next month. They will travel to Tahiti one week ahead of the World Cup.

The UAE have been drawn in the same group as the hosts in the World Cup, the Concacaf champions United States and the two-time World Cup runners-up Spain.

They will open their campaign against Tahiti on September 19 and meet Spain two days later before finishing their group engagements against the US.

In three previous appearances at the championship the UAE have failed to make it beyond the group stage, but Mendes is confident his current squad has the quality and the will to make it to the knockout stages at Tahiti.

apassela@thenational.ae

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