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UAE female footballers hail China experience

Women’s football team enjoy enriching games against Chinese opposition

Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News
Hassan Ajenoui, Coach of UAE Women's Football Teamis seen with players during their training at Abu Dhabi Country Club.
Gulf News

Dubai: There are not many situations in life where losing can be considered a success, but for the UAE women’s national football team, a trip to the traditional female football powerhouse China was a case in point.

The team, which started up in 2004, recently spent a week in China to train and play against various teams, including the under-19 national team.

The UAE team played three games and won the first two, defeating Yunnan Hongta Football Club in Kunming 3-0 and Yinchuan’s Ningxia University 7-0, before losing to China women’s youth national team 4-0. But even the match they lost was something to be proud of, said the team’s coach Hassan Ajenoui.

“I must say that the losing game should be considered a great success for the Emirati team, as China usually defeat African and Arab teams by large margins,” he said, acknowledging the fact that China is an international powerhouse in sport.

“Overall it was a very successful and useful experience.”

The UAE team have represented the country internationally a number of times, winning the West Asian Football Federation Championship in 2010 and 2011. However, the experience in China presented stern challenges.

“As we know, China are one of the best teams around the world in women’s football. They have been playing for more than 30 years,” said Nora Al Mazrouie, the team’s goalkeeper.

“It was a challenge for me personally. I wanted to play against them and see what are we missing and how to improve ourselves as players,” Al Mazrouie, who has played with the team since they formed, added.

Khadeejah Sani, usually a striker, was also presented with a tricky situation. The team’s coach, Hassan Ajenoui, decided that she should play in midfield in their games against the Chinese teams, and she had to learn to play the new position in just two weeks.

But another problem also cropped up for Sani — she was worried that she would not be allowed to play against the China national team because she wears a headscarf. Although Fifa overturned its five-year-old ban on headscarves in July, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) had yet to decide on an appropriate headscarf style for players, something that made Sani fearful because she wears a loose and flowing hijab, in traditional Emirati style, on the field.

“Basically, there was still a lot of unfinished business around the headscarf topic and referees could still exercise their authority regarding the types of headscarves permitted in their games,” said Sani.

But Sani’s fears proved to be unfounded when the kit and gear inspection prior to the game passed without incident, and she was allowed to take to the field in her scarf.

“I felt like I was the happiest person on the Earth and at that point, I realised that my football dreams were really two-fold. Not only was it important for me to fulfil my professional football ambitions, but it was even more important to me that I did so without compromising my religious beliefs and personal freedom,” said Sani. “Every time I step onto the football field in my shayla and customised jersey kit to cover my arms and legs whether in the UAE or abroad, I know that I am an ambassador for Muslim female athletes and a role model for the young generation of female football players to come.”

The China trip was organised with the help of Shaikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of Foreign Trade, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the Women’s Football Committee, and was arranged with the goal of “revealing the athletic side of the UAE and of the Emirati woman,” said Nada Al Hashimi, the team’s administrator.

However, it was also an important experience for the UAE team to have, said Ajenoui.

“In the absence of a national league, such initiatives are necessary,” he said, adding that he hopes to work with the authorities to create a national league for both children and adults.

In the meantime, he says that he would not hesitate to accept international invitations to play and train, pointing to past beneficial experiences in Germany, Switzerland and the United States. The team also had a game in Palestine on Saturday, October 27, where they won 4-2 against the Palestinian national team, and have plans for a training camp in Montenegro.

For more information on the team, please contact the Abu Dhabi Country Club on 02-6577777.