x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

U17 World Cup: first impression matters for UAE coach

Everyone is concerned with the big game against Brazil, but Honduras present a challenge for Rashid Amir.

The UAE Under 17 team trained at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi yesterday. 

Ravindranath K / The National
The UAE Under 17 team trained at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Ravindranath K / The National

ABU DHABI // Rashid Amir, the coach of the UAE Under 17 team, says tomorrow’s opening Fifa U17 World Cup fixture against Honduras will represent his side’s most difficult Group A assignment.

The hosts kick off their campaign against the central Americans at Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, before they face Brazil three days later, followed by Slovakia on October 23.

Much has been made of the clash with Brazil, three-time U17 world champions, yet during yesterday’s pre-tournament briefing, Amir repeatedly stressed the importance of his team’s initial encounter.

Honduras constitute something of an unknown quantity, although in two previous appearances in the tournament, they failed to register a point.

That record suggests the UAE should anticipate earning a vital victory, but Amir used his opening address to warn his young charges against any complacency.

“As you know, one of the most difficult games in any tournament is the first match,” he said. “I realise achieving results is going to be hard throughout the whole tournament, but Honduras have been training for this match for a long time.

“Everybody is talking about the Brazil and UAE match, but Honduras is the most difficult.”

Amir will seek solace in his side’s extensive pre-tournament schedule, which began 15 months ago at a training camp in Turkey. Their tour of duty then took the UAE to five different destinations, culminating in a recent three-week programme in Marbella, Spain.

“The team has been preparing for more than a year and in that time have been training very hard,” Amir said. “In Spain, I believe we reached the level required. The team are in tournament mode now and determined to do their best.”

As hosts, much will be expected of the UAE. The team enhanced their renown in the build-up to the World Cup, returning from Spain unbeaten in matches against powerful opponents in Ivory Coast, Mexico and Argentina. They also defeated Panama 4-0. Understandably, confidence is high among their 21-strong squad.

“As players, we are looking to win the tournament, because at U17 level there is nothing different between the teams,” said Humaid Salmein, the UAE captain. “All teams are the same.

“The only difference is how the players deal with the pressure when they reach the game and do what they need to pass through it. As young players we are not used to the media and big stadiums, but to be a successful player, you have to prepare yourself well and pass all difficulties. We’ll try our best to achieve our ambitions as much as we can.”

Those ambitions, at the moment at least, are soaring. Amir has previously declared the UAE will “surprise everybody” at the tournament, but as their first test draws ever closer, he was eager to downplay the pressure.

“In the Football Association, I’m not ordered to achieve big results, and the results we’ve had doesn’t put us under more strain,” he said. “We are ready.”

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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