The UAE team are determined to achieve first at the Beach Soccer World Cup: progress to the second round.
Tahiti will be no holiday for UAE at Beach Soccer World Cup
The clear skies, blue waters and white sandy beaches of Tahiti are just about everyone's idea of a relaxing getaway.
Over the next two weeks, a group of Emiratis will be hoping their own Pacific island dreams come true - except what they have ahead of them is anything but a holiday.
Late on Sunday, the UAE squad boarded the long flight from Dubai to Papeete, where the 2013 Fifa Beach Soccer World Cup is taking place from September 18 to 28.
Earlier that day the squad had completed their last training session at Dubai's Mamzar Beach Park with a well-deserved dip in the sea. They emerged joking, relaxed and ready.
Do not let the visions of white sands and palm trees fool you. Beach football is one of the most energy-sapping versions of the sport.
Marcelo Mendes, the UAE team's Brazilian coach, has been working to condition his players, physically and mentally, for the task ahead.
"The preparation is good, the players are very confident and very happy to be selected, because only 12 are going to the World Cup," said Mendes, who has been in charge of the team for seven years.
"The last two weeks we've trained well after the last tournament in Hungary, and now it's about adjusting some key areas, like corners, throw-ins, penalties and free kicks."
Over the summer, the team has been around some of the world's tougher football backyards and not ones usually associated with beaches - Belarus, China and Hungary. The team's results have improved with every showing.
In early July, the UAE finished third at the Belarus International tournament, beating the hosts in a penalty shoot-out 9-8 after a 4-4 draw.
At the Asian Beach Soccer Cup in China a week later, a second-string UAE squad beat Vietnam 8-3 and Australia 3-0 to advance to the final against China. A China equaliser 17 seconds from time meant the match ended 2-2 and the UAE lost to the host nation on penalties in front of a crowd of 1,000 in Haiyang.
But it all came together last month at the Hungary Beach Soccer competition, near Budapest, with a 5-1 rout of the host nation in the final match ensuring the UAE ended as champions.
The UAE kick off their World Cup campaign against the host nation, Tahiti, on Thursday, September 19.
"All the pressure is on them [Tahiti] not us, as they are playing at home and in front of their own fans," the goalkeeper Humaid Jamal said of the UAE's opening match. "Hopefully we approach the match in a relaxed mood and we can get a positive result."
Mendes believes that the experience gained over the past two months will be telling.
"The idea when we played those three tournaments in China, Belarus and Hungary, was to prepare the players for this kind of situation," he said.
A partisan crowd in Tahiti holds no fear for Mendes or his players.
"I don't expect the players to be afraid, they are ready to play under this kind of pressure," he said. "But, of course, this is the World Cup first game and we need to be prepared."
The UAE have failed to progress beyond the group stage in three previous World Cup appearances and Mendes is keen to rein in expectations.
"I don't like to make predictions, our target is to progress from the first round and I think with the team that we are taking to Tahiti we have good chance to get to the second round," he said.
"Once there, anything can happen in one game, but first we have to try for the first time to cross the first round."
To do that, the UAE must finish in the top two of Group A, which includes Spain and the United States.
Before the big kick off, the UAE will also play two friendlies, which the coach plans to use as acclimatisation exercises. On Thursday they take on Paraguay. But it is the second match, against Brazil two days later, that Mendes is focusing on.
"This is one friendly game were I want the players to be 100 per cent," said Mendes.
"Playing against Brazil is always a big test for any country, so I want the players to feel all the pressure against them and not against Tahiti five days later."
Ali Karim, the top scorer, and the goalkeeper Jamal, a Beach Club World Cup champion last year with the Russia club Lokomotiv Moscow, lead the squad, and a lack of experience will not be an issue.
"I've been playing with this team since 2009," said Adel Ali Rahu, 24, of Al Nasr. "They're a good bunch of boys and I settled in straight away.
"We've been playing very well recently, especially in Hungary where we won the tournament. We have set our sights on reaching the second round."
Come the opening match, Mendes trusts that his players should be prepared for whatever the host nation throws at them.
"We have a very good connection between the staff and the players," Mendes said.
"I hope and I'm confident that we can achieve something great for the country."
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