x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE under-19 side have big shoes to fill as AFC Championship hosts

Eid Baroot's team quietly confident of emulating their AFC Under 19 Championship-winning predecessors in 2008.

Coach Eid Baroot had very little time to train the hosts ahead of the tournament. Rich-Joseph Facun / The National
Coach Eid Baroot had very little time to train the hosts ahead of the tournament. Rich-Joseph Facun / The National

The continent's best young footballers will be showcased in the northern Emirates when 16 nations battle in the Asian Football Confederation Under 19 Championship, from today to November 17.

The reward for the top four teams: a place in the U20 World Cup next year in Turkey.

The UAE are drawn in a tough group but face a familiar opponent to begin their campaign in tonight's opener at the Emirates Club stadium in Ras Al Khaimah.

The 2008 winners of the biennial championship meet Kuwait in the Group A, followed by Japan meeting Iran. "The curtain-raisers are always crucial as it sets the tone for the entire tournament," said Eid Baroot, the UAE coach.

"Our training has been fantastic. The team has improved a lot and with just one defeat in our last 11 matches. Our confidence is high and I am quite upbeat.

"But we have to see how the match against Kuwait goes as we have two title candidates in Japan and Iran waiting next."

Kuwait are returning to the age-group competition after 12 years and their coach Ahmed Heider said they need tactical, mental, and physical strength to confront the UAE.

"Our preparation was far from ideal as the universities were reluctant to release the players but we made good use of those short training periods and the team looks fantastic now.

"With the other opponents in the group being very tough we must concentrate and try to grind the results."

Saif Rashid, the UAE youth team forward, felt the draw held no advantage to any team but a first game against a familiar opponent provides them more confidence.

"We play Kuwait and they are familiar opponent but the first game is always difficult," he said.

"A good performance and the result is very important. We are not very worried about whom we play as we must be prepared to face any team if we want to remain in this championship.

"Our objective is, of course, to follow in the same path of the age group team that had so much success in the past. It is too early to predict the results, but our goal would be to win this championship."

The UAE had previously won the AFC U19 title for the first time in Saudi Arabia, in 2008.

That Emirati team went on to create history by winning a silver medal at the Asian Games in China and by becoming the first UAE football team to qualify for the Summer Olympics, competing in the London 2012 Games. That group also reached the last eight in the U20 World Cup.

Can this batch of young Emiratis emulate their elders? Rashid said he is not looking that far into the future. "Right now, we are only thinking of our first game in this competition," he said.

"It is always good to have big ambitions because it motivates the players. I think we have prepared well and the advantage of playing at home I hope will help us to achieve those objectives."

Japan and Iran will jostle for an early lead in the group when they clash in the second match.

Japan have never won this age-group championship but have finished runners-up six times.

Iran have won the title outright once and shared it thrice with India, Iraq and North Korea, and were runner-up behind Iraq in the 1977.

apassela@thenational.ae

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