Juma Al Dhaheri says he and his UAE teammates are confident as they prepare to face Greece in the first game of the tournament to determine who will play in the Division Three Championship in April.
UAE ice hockey team 'know we can compete'
ABU DHABI // The UAE's ice hockey team will face Mongolia, Greece and Georgia in Abu Dhabi over the next three days in a bid to earn a sport at the six-team IIHF World Championship Division Three in South Africa in April.
They face a tough first match against Greece, a team who beat them 7-2 the previous time they competed at the event.
In 2010, the UAE received a direct spot in the World Championship Division Three – a tournament organised by the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) for its lowest ranked teams – after winning the 2009 IIHF Asian Challenge Cup.
At the event, in Luxembourg 2010, they became the first Arab nation to play in a World Championship but lost to Greece, Ireland and Luxembourg to finish bottom of their group.
"We went in to uncharted waters but our participation was purely for experience," Juma Al Dhaheri, the national team captain and the general secretary of the UAE Ice Hockey Association, said at the pre-match news conference yesterday. "Now we feel we can compete at this level.
"We know where we stand against our first opponent and hopeful of a good game.
"We have not lost to Mongolia, having met them a few times in the Asian competitions, but Georgia are an unknown quantity."
The two qualifiers from Abu Dhabi will join North Korea, Luxembourg, Ireland and hosts South Africa at the World Championship Division Three, which will take place from April 15 to 21 next year.
"We have been training for more than six weeks and feel confident of doing well in this qualifier," said Al Dhaheri, the forward and the country's prolific scorer.
"It is the same team that won the Challenge Cup of Asia in India earlier in the year. We have a lot of experienced players but here the bar is raised - but still we are very hopeful."
Herald Springfeld, the IIHF's Asian Sports Development Officer, said the reason Abu Dhabi was selected as the venue (games will take place at the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink at Zayed Sports City) was because the many good steps taken by the UAE Ice Hockey Association to develop the sport in the country.
"The arrangement here at this venue is similar to what we would have for any world championship," Springfeld said.
"And I would like to add the UAE has taken a lead role to promote the game not only in the country but have played a very important role on the development and growth of the sport in the entire region. We, as the IIHF, are very happy of their commitment to develop the sport. We have been working with 17 associations in Asia and the UAE have developed the most in the last two years."
Mohammed Aref Al Jachi, the technical director of the UAE association, said: "We had to meet all the criteria laid down by the IIHF to host this qualifier and are very glad we were able to meet all those requirements."
The UAE previously hosted the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia, which they won in 2009.
The UAE are ranked 47 in the world after Mongolia (46) and Greece (45).
Georgia are making their debut at an IIHF event.
A team from the Emirates will also make their debut in the Under 20 IIHF World Championship Division-3 in Bulgaria from January 14 to 20.
The participants include Mexico, China, New Zealand, Turkey and hosts Bulgaria.
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