x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE football fans must step out of shadows for Fifa U17 World Cup

Fifa Under 17 World Cup organisers are rubbing their hands with glee after the host nation drew Brazil in Group A, writes Ali Khaled.

The Under 17 World Cup draw saw Hosts UAE drawn with Brazil.
The Under 17 World Cup draw saw Hosts UAE drawn with Brazil.

It was perhaps not what the Emirati delegation wanted, but Fifa Under 17 World Cup organisers this morning are rubbing their hands with glee after the twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE

">host nation drew Brazil in Group A.

For fans in the Emirates, it is by far the biggest match of the tournament, which kicks off on October 17 in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Al Ain and Fujairah.

Fifa will be hoping that interest will spread to the rest of the tournament as well.

Mahdi Ali, the UAE national team coach and a man who has experienced several youth competitions, called on the country's football fans to make their presence felt.

"We need supporters to show up to all the matches, and in particular to the ones involving the UAE," he said after the draw.

"UAE can be as successful in holding this tournament as it has been in so many other fields."

The UAE's group also includes Honduras and Slovakia, and the home team will be hopeful that home advantage and the passionate backing of local crowds can help them advance.

"We're playing at home in front our own fans, and we hope that every Emirati is present with us in the stadium, the team needs their support to lift them," Mahdi Ali said. "We need to show the world the best we have to offer, not just in terms of organisation, but also in terms of attendance and support."

The UAE, understandably, considering its relatively smaller population, has a tough act to follow regarding the two previous tournaments.

The 2009 competition had an average attendance of 14,000, and 60,000 supporters cheered on the home nation, Nigeria, as they lost the final to Switzerland.

Two years later, an astonishing 98,000 fans crammed into Aztec Stadium in Mexico City to see the home team beat Uruguay in the final of a tournament that had average crowds of over 19,000.

Mahdi Ali believes that a similar level of passion can lift the U17s.

"Our fans have a huge role to play in encouraging the players," he said. "Their presence will provide a positive backing in our efforts to reach the later stages."

Some fans will need no encouragement. Iraqis, whose team is grouped with defending champions Mexico, Nigeria and Sweden, will no doubt flock to support their team wherever they play.

The UAE's Russian community will find their team's base in Sharjah a convenient one. And if you're looking for the next Lionel Messi, then Dubai, where Argentina are based, is the place to be.

For the casual fans, the low ticket pricing should prove attractive. If you are still not convinced, how about the fact that this competition has produced the likes of Francesco Totti in 1993; Xavi and Ronaldinho in 1997; Fernando Torres in 2001; Cesc Fabregas in 2003; and Neymar in 2009.

The world will be keeping an eye out for the next superstar. Emiratis will have theirs on the twin success of their team and the tournament.

"Our first and foremost source of inspiration will be our fans, they play the role of an extra player," U17 team manager Badr Ahmad Al Hammadi said. "I truly believe that they will not let us down."

akhaled@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE