x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

'We are going there to make the country proud'

Omar Abdulrahman, born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents, says 'I am Emirati' and will not be intimidated playing in the famous stadiums.

Omar Abdulrahman, centre, will represent the UAE at the Olympics.
Omar Abdulrahman, centre, will represent the UAE at the Olympics.

Al AIN // Omar Abdulrahman, the UAE playmaker, is unfazed about facing Great Britain at the Olympics and says he is "among brothers" with his teammates, despite being born in Saudi Arabia.

The UAE reached London after going unbeaten through the Asian qualifiers, winning four matches and drawing two to top a group including Australia and Iraq. Abdulrahman, who scored the scored the winner against Australia at Al Jazira, was undaunted at the prospect of playing Olympics matches at Wembley and Old Trafford.

"No, on the contrary, our dream is to reach those stadiums," Abdulrahman said. "We will enjoy it and we won't let it intimidate us. We are going there to make the country proud, our sheikhs and the whole country."

Abdulrahman, 20, is of Yemeni origin and was born in the Saudi Arabia capital Riyadh, but his footballing promise led the UAE to grant him citizenship and he and his family relocated to Al Ain, for whom he now plays.

"I represent the UAE, of course I do, it's a great honour - I am Emirati," said Abdulrahman, who also has a handful of caps for the senior national team and speaks Arabic in a near-perfect Emirati accent.

When asked how his teammates treated him as a foreign-born player, he said "I am among brothers".

Abdulrahman's recruitment is an example of the UAE's determination to improve on its standing in world football.

Off the field, of course, the country has plenty of influence with Europe's elite clubs. The ownership of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed propelled Manchester City to their first English league title in 44 years last month, and Emirates Airline has naming rights Arsenal's London ground and is also the shirt-sponsor of AC Milan, the seven-time European champions.

On the field, the UAE's fortunes seem to be changing under the guidance of coach Mahdi Ali, who led the Under 19 team to the Asia Championships in 2008 before moving up the age groups along with many of the players.

The Olympics will also give the UAE players a chance to shine in front of scouts from Europe's top clubs and Abdulrahman is keen to follow compatriot Hamdan Al Kamali abroad.

Kamali, 23, is the only Emirati playing in Europe, although the central defender has yet to make his senior debut since joining France's Lyon on loan from Al Wahda in January.

"Playing in leagues abroad is very good thing for a player, he will get a taste of real professional football and I wish for this for me," Abdulrahman said.

His cause has been helped by Gyan's presence at Al Ain. The Ghanaian scored 22 goals in 18 games to help the club claim their ninth national title, having joined on loan from the English Premier League club Sunderland.

"He is very down to earth which surprised us because he is such a big name in the football world," Abdulrahman said. "We learned how to be more professional in the game, how to deal with other players."

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