Al Ain's Union Cup-winning handball team get fitting send off

Al Ain's handball team are hoping to follow the same path to the top of their league's table that the football club have climbed.

Al Ain leave on Friday for a two-week pre-season handball training camp in Tunisia with the morale-boosting words of their chairman ringing in their ears and the Union Cup in their trophy cabinet as they bid to erase the disappointment of their league form last year.

The club finished a disappointing seventh last season, having won the league five times previously, but they received a surprise visit from Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed, the club chairman, on Wednesday evening in the sports hall at the Al Ain Club. He was quick to congratulate the team on their Union Cup success, achieved last week by beating Al Wasl, 25-22, in the final at Al Jazira Club.

"Victories don't come out of nothing, and the fact you won the Union Cup proves your determination and will in achieving victory," Sheikh Abdullah said. "You proved to everyone that you have a lot to show this season. I would like to assure that you are trustworthy enough and I wish you success and victories in the coming tournaments."

Rashid Mubarak Al Hajeri, the deputy chairman, said: "The chairman's visit assures the club's care and interest in all games of different ages and enhances the morale of the handball team to win more trophies in the coming period."

Mohamed Abdullah bin Bdoua, a board member, added: "The chairman considered the Union Cup winning is an important step for the team this season so they can reclaim their position locally, regionally and continentally. Our goal is to prepare a young, strong team with champions' abilities in order to win all trophies and stay on top."

The optimism is fuelled by the fact Adnan Belhareth, the Tunisian coach who quit midway through last season, has returned on a one-year contract while Ahmed Al Qizani, a Tunisian international, and the Emiratis Yousuf Hassan, from Al Wasl, and Mohammed Ramadan, from Al Nasr, have joined a team that boasts UAE internationals Ibrahim Gharib, Abdulla Omar, Saeed Khalfan, and the goalkeeper Faisal Al Kaabi.

They will be part of the 22-man party who will travel to Tunisia today for a 12-day get-together that will encompass friendly matches against Al Afriqi, Al Hamamat, Haybon, Sayadah, Makaram Al Mahdiyah and Al Makneen. They will then play Al Salemyah, from Kuwait, in a friendly match on their return before the season opener against Kalba on February 11.

Abdurrahman Naseeb, the club's supervisor, is confident the changes will have the same effect as they did on the club's football team that sits atop the Pro League table.

"It is hard to expect, especially when we talk about handball, but we will work on changing the recent picture of Al Ain, where their position was the seventh in the last four years in the league table," Naseeb said.