x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE to play at two of English football's colosseums at Olympics

Mahdi Ali's men will face Uruguay at Old Trafford and Team Great Britain at Wembley Stadium in Group A.

Team Great Britain head coach Staurt Pearce, left, said he would not be dismissing any team's chances. Jamie McDonald / Getty Images
Team Great Britain head coach Staurt Pearce, left, said he would not be dismissing any team's chances. Jamie McDonald / Getty Images

The UAE were drawn into the glamour group of the London 2012 Olympic football tournament yesterday, alongside the hosts Great Britain and Uruguay, whose senior side are ranked No 3 in the world.

"Playing in the same group against [Team Great Britain] will keep our players under the spotlight and we need to make the maximum benefit of the opportunity," said Yousuf Al Serkal, the president of the Football Association's interim committee.

The UAE's programme will begin on July 26 with a match against Uruguay at Old Trafford in Manchester, and the Emiratis would do well to take a point away from the home of Manchester United.

They move to Wembley Stadium for a July 29 match with Team Great Britain, who as hosts rank with Spain and Brazil as favourites to win the gold medal.

The UAE's final Group A game is against Senegal at Coventry on August 1.

They would advance to the quarter-finals if they finish in one of the top two positions of Group A. If they are first, they would play at Cardiff in the final eight, and if they are second in their group they would return to Wembley.

Much of the football tournaments, both men's and women's, are played outside London, epicentre for the Summer Games.

Al Serkal conceded it was a difficult draw for the Emirati side, but promised that the association would make every effort to properly prepare the first UAE team to qualify for the Olympics.

"We are confident that our Olympic national team have gained enough experience and are capable of facing the upcoming challenge," Al Serkal told the FA website.

"The national technical staff has been doing a great job and knows how to handle the affair in the light of the great experiences which they have gained in the qualifiers. The UAE FA will [dedicate] all its resources and facilities to support the boys in white and supports their campaign. The preparations [programme] of the squad will be at the highest level."

Stuart Pearce, the coach of Team GB, warned against overconfidence among fans of the host side. "It will be tough," he said in London. "I wouldn't dismiss anyone from the group or anyone coming here."

The UAE team will number 18, with four alternates. The tournament is considered the Under 23 world championship by Fifa, but Olympic rules allow for three over-age players per side.

Twelve Emiratis born before January 1, 1989, including the forward Ismail Matar and the goalkeeper Ali Kasheif, are among the 45 players invited to the training camp expected to begin in Europe in mid-June.

The whole of the Olympics will be played during Ramadan, which is expected to begin on July 20, and Mahdi Ali said special measures would be needed to have his players at their peak for London 2012 matches.

He has coached many of those players since they were boys, and they have never failed to advance out of the group stage in international age-group competitions, but London 2012 may provide the stiffest test yet.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

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