London: Despite bowing out of their Olympic debut early Mahdi Ali’s golden generation have been heralded as the “team of tomorrow” by the local footballing fraternity.
Group phase defeats against Uruguay 2-1 at Old Trafford last Thursday, and Great Britain 3-1 at Wembley on Sunday, renders the result of the UAE’s last game against Senegal in Coventry on Wednesday academic for the emirates.
But while the outcome of that game may be meaningless the significance of Team UAE’s weighty contribution throughout the competition has not been lost on the plaudits, least of all UAE FA chairman Yousuf Al Sarkal.
“Our boys prepared well and they went out there and tried their best against two very strong teams,” Sarkal told Gulf News at Wembley. “At the end of the day they failed to win. This does not mean that football has failed, but it only shows us where we stand on the international stage,” he added.
“We went and played in one of the best tournaments in the world at an Olympic Games and we fell short with two defeats in as many matches. No one needs to condemn this group of players. On the contrary they need to be commended for giving a correct picture of UAE football.”
Al Sarkal added: “This team is the best we have and most of these players are being prepared to be part of the future of UAE football. So there is no need to be disheartened. On the contrary we need to look forward confidently when this same team will bring many more laurels to the UAE.”
Former UAE player, Khalid Esmail, who famously scored his country’s first goal in a World Cup in 1990, said of the Olympic squad: “This is the dream team, the national team for the future. People remember the Italia 90 squad with fondness but we had many problems then, we were amateur, it was our first time to play in Europe and we had no proper federation or support. But this team has given people hope of getting back to the top and staying there.
“The UAE’s performance at the Olympics has been fantastic. It’s very bright for UAE football and the wider GCC region. We enjoyed our football and played without pressure against Uruguay, whereas in the game against Britain we let the atmosphere and competition daunt us a little, this comes down to experience.”
Roy Aitken, a former Scotland and Celtic defender and current advisor for Al Ahli agreed: “They’ve shown they can match anyone in the group. They passed the ball well, handled superbly and controlled large chunks of the game. It’s just the cutting edge that’s lacking when it comes to putting goals away and defending at the back. They’ve shown they are capable of playing on the international stage, impressing everyone with their fitness and physicality. They should be very proud of themselves, they’ve shown the UAE is moving forward.”
Al Wasl youth keeper coach and former Manchester City shot stopper John Burridge, who placed the first Omani in the EPL, Ali Al Habsi, suggested the UAE’s performances had attracted the world’s attention.
“They’ve shown they’re good enough but if they want to go further they have to go outside the UAE and play in Europe. A coach can only take you so far, it’s the league that will take you the rest of the way.
“Experience abroad will give them that added edge that was lacking in experience and composure. These fantastic, world class performances will have earned them global recognition and its that recognition that they need to go one better.”
Achievements of the UAE team
2006: U-17 Gulf Champions (Ahmad Khalil is top goal-scorer)
2007: Gulf Cup Champions
2008: AFC U-19 Champions in Saudi Arabia (Ahmad Khalil is voted Most Valuable Player and Asian Young Footballer of the Year)
2009: Quarter-finalist at Fifa U-20 World Cup held in Egypt (drew with South Africa 2-2; beat Honduras 1-0; lost to Hungary 0-2 and qualified to Round 16 where they beat Venezuela 2-1. Quarter-finals: lost in extra time to Costa Rica 2-1.
2010: Silver Medal at Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. Gulf U-23 Champions