x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UAE has one skate in South Africa ahead of Georgia encounter

Hosts qualified after just two games while Greece and Mongolia face off for the final spot in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship Division Three.

The UAE ice hockey team, in red, beat Greece 2-0 in their first match and Mongolia in the second. Charles Crowell for The National
The UAE ice hockey team, in red, beat Greece 2-0 in their first match and Mongolia in the second. Charles Crowell for The National

ABU DHABI // Having already booked their place in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship Division Three in South Africa next year, it is celebration time for the UAE tonight.

They meet Georgia, the newcomers to IIHF competition, in the final match of the qualifiers for the World Championship.

The UAE have won their first two matches in the tournament – 2-0 against Greece and 3-2 over Mongolia, to grab one of the two spots for South Africa.

Their beaten opponents will face-off in the first match of the night at Abu Dhabi Ice Rink at Zayed Sports City for the other qualification place.

But the pressure is off for the UAE for their match against Georgia, who have lost 6-0 and 13-0 so far.

Juma Al Dhaheri, the UAE captain, said his team will treat the game as preparation for the real thing.

"We should win by all means but strange things have happened in competitions. It really has been a remarkable competition for us and we want to celebrate it on the final night," he said.

"But more important is to play to our true potential against any opposition and take this momentum forward. Now we are thinking of our preparation for the championship in South Africa and start with this game."

The top two teams in the qualifier in Abu Dhabi join North Korea, Ireland, Luxembourg and the hosts South Africa in the tournament from April 15 to 21.

The UAE's rise on the international stage since winning the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in 2009, when they hosted the event in Abu Dhabi, has been impressive.

They regained the continental crown earlier this year in India after finishing runners-up to Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

"This is the result of all the hard work," Mohammed Aref Al Jachi, the national team defender and technical director of the UAE Ice Hockey Association, said. "We have been working closely with the IIHF, the world governing body for the sport, all along and still continue do to so by executing the tasks recommended to us."

The UAE have made one previous appearance in the IIHF World Championship Division Three when they received a direct spot after winning the Challenge Cup.

They finished winless behind Ireland, Greece, and the host Luxembourg in 2010.

"This is the first time we are playing in the qualifying tournament and this time we were fully prepared," said Al Dhaheri, who has scored in both qualifying games.

"The last time we played in the Division Three was for the experience and see where we stood among those teams. We have a very good programme and the national team players have really benefited.

"They are strong, fast and more confident than before. The Emirates Hockey League [EHL] that was established in 2009 on the recommendations of the IIHF has provided a strong base for the Emirati players."

The EHL consists of five teams made up of Emirati and expatriate players, most of them from established ice hockey-playing nations such as Canada, the United States and various European countries.

A majority of the Emirati players play for the Abu Dhabi Storms and the Al Ain Theebs while the Dubai Mighty Camels, Al Ain Vipers and Abu Dhabi Scorpions are mostly made up of expatriates.

The EHL also founded a junior league in 2012 and the UAE age group team made their first appearance in the IIHF Under 18 Challenge Cup of Asia earlier this year when they were runners-up to Thailand in a tournament staged in Abu Dhabi.

They will now play in the U20 IIHF World Championship Division Three in Sofia, Bulgaria, from January 14 to 20.

"These are good times for the sport in the UAE and eventually I would like to see a professional league in place," said Al Dhaheri, who is also the general secretary of the UAE Ice Hockey Association.

apassela@thenational.ae

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