Helping hand to UAE women footballers in Ramadan

A strong response from worldwide to five-a-side football will help Emiratis improve and in 'creating a culture' for the future.
Japan's Nao Kobayashi lines up a shot against the International Golden Group's Moroccan goalkeeper, Elham Hemodi.
Japan's Nao Kobayashi lines up a shot against the International Golden Group's Moroccan goalkeeper, Elham Hemodi.
The women's five-a-side football tournament at the Armed Forces Officers Club (AFOC) Ramadan Festival has a real international flavour this year with the presence of the Thailand national team, as well as several international players from Japan, Morocco and Egypt.

However, the emphasis of the tournament is on helping Emirati players improve enough to be able to compete with the established football nations in the future.

"We sent invites to several national associations to send their national teams or representative sides for this tournament, and the response has been pretty good," Amal Bu Shallakh, the head of the Festival's organising committee for women's sports, said.

"Thailand responded by sending their national team, Japan and Uzbekistan have flown club teams, and the local entries have flown down international players from Morocco, Egypt and Lebanon.

"With the core players of the UAE women's national team, this competition is the best so far in terms of quality. We hope to build on this and make it better and better every passing year until we have the national teams competing."

Sayo Kikkawa, a Japan futsal international, who represents the Japanese club Bardral Urayasu at the Festival, endorsed Bu Shallakh's sentiments.

"Creating a culture is the key for the women's game in the UAE," Kikkawa said.

"I feel they are on the right path with the kind of competition I have seen. There are plenty of fans and encouragement for the Emirati players. As long as they are enjoying, which I am sure they do, the rest will follow.

"A new wave of popularity has hit Japan after winning the women's World Cup. I believe good times are ahead for women's football in Japan.

"The sport is popular but the World Cup victory has already taken the game to a new level."

She said that players from the World Cup-winning team were interviewed almost every day by both the print media and television.

"This has created new awareness and I am sure more and more young girls will get into football.

"It is not that the game is not popular, but the success at the highest level has given rise to more following for the women's game.

"I met a few Emirati players and they are very enthusiastic. And with the backing they receive and the competitions like the AFOC Festival provide them, they will surely improve.

"Nothing happens overnight, but bigger things are achieved from small beginnings."

Kikkawa, 32, has spent 25 years playing football, and it was only two years ago that she won a place in the Japan futsal team.

"It is a game I enjoy most, so I would have continued to play as long as possible even if didn't play for Japan," she said.

"To play for Japan in futsal without doubt is my greatest achievement but playing football is what I enjoy most."

Bu Shallakh said: "From the outset, we have been trying to make this year's women's football tournament the biggest attraction of the festival, keeping in mind the development of our women's team."

There are 10 teams competing in the tournament, which kicked off on August 14 and ends on Sunday. They have been drawn into two groups of five with the top pair in each group going through to the semi-finals.

And there has already been an upset, with the Japanese side beaten 2-1 by the International Golden Group, a side packed with Moroccan internationals. Kikkawa scored Bardral Urayasu's goal.

The team thought they had arrived to compete in a futsal tournament, but are trying their best in the outdoor game. "We thought it was futsal but found it different when we had to play with the standard football, which is a bit bouncier and difficult to control than the ball used for futsal," Lisa Minamitani, a staff member accompanying the team, said.

"But we are enjoying the new experience of being in Abu Dhabi. The competition is stronger than we anticipated."

Thailand have been the most impressive team so far, winning their two matches 10-1 and 4-0.

"We have come with a young team with an average age of 22 and most of them play in both versions, the conventional game and futsal. It is also our first visit and a new experience for the girls," Rakphol Sainetnoam, the Thai coach, said.

Follow The National Sport on @SprtNationalUAE & Amith Passela on @AmithPassela

Published: August 17, 2011 04:00 AM


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