Dubai: Fresh after his return from injury, Al Ain’s Rayan Yaslam has trained his focus on a two-fold target containing club and country.
Yaslam, one of the latest UAE athletes to come under the sponsorship of American sportswear giant Nike, has been preparing for his club’s return to competition with the 2020 AFC Champions League that is scheduled to be held at a centralised location in Doha later this month.
After two preliminary round matches, Al Ain are at the bottom of Group D with no points following successive losses to Sepahan of Iran and Saudi Arabia’s Al Nasr. Al Ain are scheduled to travel to Doha later this week to recommence their campaign with back-to-back matches against Al Sadd of Qatar on September 15 and 18 followed by encounters against Sepahan (September 21) and Al Nasr (September 24).
“I do realise that we are in quite a tough spot at the moment due to the bad start to our campaign. Basically, we need to win everything and that is going to be one tough task for us as a team,” Yaslam told Gulf News in a candid chat.
“We’ve not been able to have competitive match situations so far this season, while other teams have already started their leagues and they are all ready to go. But, I believe that we can make it happen simply because our priority is always to be the best.”
Al Ain concluded their pre-season preparations earlier this week with a friendly match against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai. And then, with the new season all set to take off last weekend, the UAE Football Association (UAE FA) announced its postponement by at least a month.
“We want to go to Doha as serious contenders and not merely to make up the numbers. Our attitude and mentality will be to win all four matches and make it to the next round of the AFC Champions League. We needed to have a rhythm going with some competitive games, but this is the situation we are in and we will be there to do our best,” the 25-year-old promised.
A return to duty with the UAE national team is also high up on Yaslam’s list of priorities. However, a left knee surgery in May last year kept him out of the national squad, and the young, versatile player realised how he will need to be extra vigilant and impressive to gain the favour of incoming national coach from Colombia, Jorge Luis Pinto.
“There can be no greater thrill than playing for the country. Being the best footballer has always been my goal from the time I got mesmerised by this game. Nothing of that has changed for me and I will continue chasing my dream for both club and country,” Yaslam said.
Contesting in Round 2 of the four-tiered qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the UAE find themselves in a precarious fourth position with six points in Group G, way behind Vietnam (11 points), Malaysia (9) and Thailand (8) heading into the last four matches that were rescheduled to be played sometime in 2021.
“It’s zero advantage for us at the moment. But I believe this goal too is possible simply because of the quality of players we have within this current squad. We have one tough task to achieve and that is to win all four matches and then perhaps await results of the other four teams,” Yaslam admitted.
“I am convinced that I can have a major part to play for my national team. At the moment, I am not in the squad, but luckily, we have time on our side as the next qualifying matches are only next year and the new coach [Pinto] will have an opportunity to see how I can contribute in the UAE successfully making it to the next round.”
A total of 4.5 slots — four direct and one inter-confederation play-off — have been reserved for Asia nations wanting to qualify for the World Cup. The qualifying process involves four rounds of action, where the first two rounds double up as advancing to the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. Last month, FIFA and the AFC rescheduled qualifying rounds to 2021 due to the current pandemic situation.
Name: Rayan Yaslam
Date of birth: November 23, 1994
Place of birth: Al Ain
Current club: Al Ain FC
Hobbies: Swimming, playing tennis
Other interests: Watching movies (2015 American crime comedy-drama ‘Focus’ with Will Smith and Margot Robbie is among his all-time favourite)
Rayan Yaslam’s Dream XI: Manuel Neuer, Sergio Ramos, Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Dani Alves, Zinedine Zidane, Frank Lampard, Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rayan Aslam.