NASSAU, BAHAMAS // Master and pupil will face off on Friday when the UAE start their Fifa Beach Soccer World Cup campaign in the Bahamas. The transition of Mohammed Bashir from influential veteran player into the Emirates’ ambitious young manager owes a lot to the time he spent working with current Paraguay manager Gustavo “Guga” Zloccowick.
Now the two will face off in what the UAE side are billing as the most important of their three group stage matches.
Drawn in a group with world champions Portugal, the champions of Concacaf, Panama, and South America’s second-strongest team Paraguay, the UAE’s objective of progressing to the quarter-finals for the first time will be no easy task.
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Yet after two years of working closely with Guga while assistant coach, Emirati Bashir, who was handed the coaching reigns earlier this year, now has the chance to snare a valuable, memorable win.
“I first met Guga when he was coach of Bahrain back in 2007 or thereabout and I later became his No2 when he moved to the Emirates, so we have a lot of history” he said, relaxing inside the team’s hotel at Atlantis Paradise Island.
There is a feeling of familiarity as you cross the bridge into the giant salmon-pink resort’s luxurious grounds. With the azure waters gently lapping at the shore and photos displaying exclusive dolphin experiences, it is not difficult to see where the Atlantis Palm Jumeirah borrowed some of its ideas.
That feeling of familiarity is more pronounced for Bashir, who has spent time catching up with his former manager since checking in here on April 15. The UAE were one of the first of the 16 teams to arrive in the Caribbean, contesting some friendly matches against Bahamas, Italy and Nigeria to help the players acclimatise to the conditions.
“Yes, I have met with Guga here already. We had a chat, shared a hug and so on and we will do so again on Friday. But when the match begins, we will put it all aside and get on with business,” Bashir said.
“We are not in the Bahamas to make up numbers. We want to progress and that is what we are focused on.”
The UAE have qualified for four of the past six tournaments, but failed to get out of their group each time. A victory on Friday is being seen as crucial to their chances of progression this time around, but last year’s defeat of world champions Portugal at the Intercontinental Cup in Dubai means they are not settling only for the runner-up position.
“We beat Portugal the last time we played them, so anything is possible,” said midfielder Rami Al Mesaabi.
“We are a strong team physically, fast and can surprise teams that underestimate us. But it’s true that Paraguay is our most important match. It’s a must-win for us. We are well prepared, have played some good matches here already and are feeling confident.”
Bashir is one of the youngest managers at the tournament, but he has been involved in the game long enough to know the results this week will go a long way in deciding whether he will continue at the helm.
“Every time we play at a World Cup, we know we must do better than the last time,” he said.
“If we go out in the groups this month, I think everything finishes for me and UAE. That’s why I have been in my hotel room the whole time. I am determined to help the team progress – and it would be good for the assistant coach to beat the coach, you know?”
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