FIFA President Sepp Blatter hailed praise on the UAE's efforts on the eve of the FIFA World Youth Championship 2003, which kicks off today here in the capital.

"We have to really thank the leaders of the UAE for agreeing to stage the championship which was postponed. Truly the infrastructure along with the technical and logistics' brilliance of this country is remarkable. The UAE is already known as a tourist destination but staging this championship, which is the second biggest of FIFA events after the World Cup, is a significant success," Blatter said.

"The Youth World Cup, which started off in a small way is a big event now and this being the fifth time an Asian country is hosting it, we are very thankful to the UAE for it," he said.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of UAE Armed Forces, welcomes Sepp Blatter in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Picture: WAM
Blatter however ruled out that the Youth Championship would have an increase in the number of teams.

"Though the UAE has done a brilliant job, it is not possible for many countries to provide all facilities for 24 teams. However, in importance, the Youth Championship is second only to the World Cup and with 24 teams is better off than all other FIFA events which have only 16 teams and lesser participating," Blatter said.

Blatter also announced that The FIFA World Player Gala 2003, the traditional end-of-year gathering of planet football, would be held in Basel, Switzerland on Monday, December 15.

"We will be honouring the Iraqi football team and its coach for getting on with the game despite the tensions," Blatter said. After the award ceremony, for which FIFA will announce three nominations tomorrow, a 'Match against Poverty', will be played under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) banner.

Blatter with Al Suweidi during yesterday's press conference. ©Gulf News
The Friends of Ronaldo team will take on Friends of Zinedine team, he added. Formula One champion Michael Schumacher is also expected to play.

Blatter also commended the UAE's move to distribute free tickets. "The young players will certainly enjoy playing in front of packed stadiums. The TV pictures of packed stadiums will not only be a big boost to the game, but will also show the world the facilities available in the UAE," Blatter remarked. A total of 13 cameras will beam the action live to over 100 countries.

Jack Austin Warner, FIFA Vice President and Chairman of the Organising Committee said the Emirates 2003 championship has 'surpassed all other countries' in its efforts to make it a success.

"The co-operation from the nations leaders, the officials and the people has been so overwhelming that we are in fact ready to stage the matches from this afternoon itself! Everything is in place and the UAE is ready," Warner said.

Sultan Saqr Al Suweidi said the UAE was at the moment in the middle of celebrating three events. "The festival of Eid Al Fitr, tomorrow's inauguration of the championship and the December 2 UAE National Day are all in the same period and we are extremely thrilled," he said. "Together with FIFA we have followed up all aspects and are ready for the championship," added Suweidi.