Rashid Amir has a tough training regime as they look to emulate Mahdi Ali's men, writes Ali Khaled.
UAE U17 World Cup players have big hearts but with big shoes to fill
When it comes to managing their international teams, the Football Association is of the mind that if it's not broke, don't fix it.
Having seen the sterling work done by Mahdi Ali with several age groups reap rewards with the senior team's Gulf Cup success earlier this year, the message is clear: more of the same, please.
On Saturday, the FA announced a squad of 26 players for the Fifa Under 17 World Cup, taking place in the UAE from October 17 to November 8, as well as a series of training camps in the build-up.
For the Emirati coach Rashid Amir and his staff, the preparation started a year and two months ago.
"We started planning in April 2012, but the preparations started in earnest from July 1," he said. "We held a training camp in Istanbul ... and played against local Turkish sides."
The squad also took part in a four-team tournament, beating Australia before drawing against China and Saudi Arabia, the latter of which defeated the UAE in a penalty shoot-out.
The trip was the first of a gruelling 12 camps at home and abroad. The goal was to create a tight-knit squad of players with the right attitude. In keeping with Mahdi Ali's philosophy, the emphasis was on the group.
Between January 2-8, the UAE played in a mini tournament in Al Ain. A win against Tunisia was followed by a draw against Japan, and a defeat in the final against Czech Republic. The team was starting to take shape.
The FA then enrolled the squad in the UAE Under 19 League which resulted in an immediate improvement in results. The team played a series of friendlies against some of the Gulf's finest – Asian Cup holders Uzbekistan, Iran and Iraq were all defeated, as well as Kuwait, India and Singapore.
"The benefits were shown with all the positive results we achieved in the friendlies," Amir said. "Playing against older and physically stronger players proved a good idea, and if it wasn't for that participation we wouldn't have competed so well against Iraq, Uzbekistan and Iran, who all have very strong physical presence."
Monday marks one year exactly since Amir started working with this group. The next stage of preparation promises to be just as hectic.
The first week of July will be spent undergoing stringent medical checks and evening trainings sessions. They then fly to Turkey for almost the entirety of Ramadan, during which the team will play three more friendlies.
"It's not our first time, last year we also had a training camp in Turkey during Ramadan," Amir said. "We'll have two training programmes. Two hours prior to Iftar we will focus on indoor activities like gym work and swimming, nothing on the pitch or with the ball."
"About two hours after Iftar we will have a two or three hour regular training sessions."
The coach said the players were dedicated to the training regime and were prepared for being away from their families for long stints.
"I've worked with this group for a year now and if you told them the camp was six months, they'll sign up for it on the spot," said Amir.
On their return from Turkey, on August 6, the players will be allowed to spend Eid Al Fitr with their families. After that it is back to the hard work.
"August will see six to eight matches played in Switzerland and Austria, and September will be spent in the Far East before heading home for the final 17-day training camp.
"During the last week we will concentrate on fitness and making sure the players are not too tired by the start of the World Cup."
Mahdi Ali will be keeping a keen eye on potential stars of the future.
"Mahdi is very keen follower of this team, he watches most games and is usually in the stands supporting us, and that in itself shows huge belief in the player," Amir said. "For the senior national team coach to be present encourages these players to do their best and eventually graduate to a higher level."
Amir, however, refused to single out any one player for special praise, instead saying he expected several of his charges to make a name for themselves.
"We always concentrate on the group, and not on individuals," he said. "I think this World Cup will produce several stars from our team, and I predict that the team as whole will be excellent in the tournament."
Goalkeepers Mohamed Al Mansouri (Al Jazira); Zayed Al Hammadi (Al Dhafra); Mohamed Mohamed (Al Wahda)
Defenders Ali Ghaloum Ali, Suhail Al Zedjali (both Al Ahli); Hamad Al Junaibi (Al Jazira); Omar Al Bout (Al Rams); Abdullah Al Hammadi (Al Dhafra); Firas Bin Saleh Al Khasibi, Sultan Bin Fairouz Al Badrani (both Al Ain); Hamad Al Tamimi, Rashid Ali Sulaiman (both Al Nasr); Ahmed Ali Ahmed (Al Wahda)
Midfielders Sultan Al Shamsi, Shaheen Al Darmaki (both Al Jazira); Adel Al Marzouqi (Hatta); Ahmed Al Zayoudi (Dibba Al Hisn); Khaled Darwish (Al Shabab); Khaled Al Harrasi (Al Ain); Humaid Fares (Al Fujairah); Ibrahim Abdullah (Al Nasr); Abdullah Al Shams (Al Wasl)
Strikers Suhail Saeed (Baniyas); Faisal Al Khouri, Zayed Al Ameri (both Al Jazira); Mohamed Al Akbari (Al Wahda)
Record over past 12 months
Goals for 40
Goals against 36
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