Olympics: Rain may muddy the picture of UAE's starters

Wet weather may hamper Mahdi Ali, the UAE coach, and his staff decide on the starting XI for their opening game at London 2012 Olympics.

The UAE Olympic football team, practicing in Lienz, Austria, may have their friendly match against Honduras, a team that is also London bound, rained out.
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LIENZ, AUSTRIA // A charming local publication a few days ago printed a front-page story about unusually wet weather heading for the region, all but apologising for the inconvenience it would cause tens of thousands of Alpine tourists.

Among those the Kleine Zeitung (which translates as "Little Newspaper") may have had in mind are the numerous football teams, as many as 70, from all over Europe and the Middle East, currently training in the region, including the UAE Olympic side, whose ability to stage highly valued friendly matches may be at risk.

The Emiratis are scheduled to play their second-to-last friendly Monday night, against Honduras, in the nearby town of Matrei, but if rains continue on the scale seen Friday, an important test match could be lost.

For example, Al Ain, the Pro League champions based about 100 kilometres from here, were unable to play a friendly fixture Friday because every pitch in the area was too wet to support 22 footballers in a game, as opposed to a muddy farce.

Mahdi Ali, the coach of the Olympic team, prizes these final two friendlies ahead of their move to England for the London Games.

Both Honduras, tonight, and New Zealand, on Thursday, are true Olympic teams, also heading for London 2012, and matches with them should give the UAE coaches valuable information and their players a strong test.

Honduras, a small country in Central America who snatched an Olympic berth from the US, are led by Jerry Bengston, who plays his club football for the New England Revolution; the midfielder Roger Espinoza, of Sporting Kansas City; and the defender Maynor Figueroa, who since 2008 has appeared in 126 matches for Wigan Athletic.

Honduras last week defeated London-bound Gabon 2-0, three days after Gabon and the UAE drew 1-1. Most of Mahdi Ali's first XI appears set, but the strike trio of Ismail Matar, Ahmed Khalil and Ahmed Ali appear to be contesting for two spots, and perhaps even one, if the midfielder Omar Abdulrahman is shifted ahead to play as a withdrawn forward.

Also, Ismail Al Hammadi and Rashid Essa look to be in contention for a spot on the right side of midfield.

Those who seem likely to be in the UAE first XI, come kick-off against Uruguay in Manchester on July 26, are the goalkeeper Ali Kasheif, the central defenders Hamdan Al Kamali and Mohammed Ahmed, the wingers Abdulaziz Sanquor and Abdulaziz Ahmed, the holding midfielder Khamis Esmail, and the midfielders Omar Abdulrahman and Amer Abdulrahman.

The UAE cannot simply postpone matches because their countdown to London 2012 is well under way.

They plan to stay in Munich on Thursday night, after the New Zealand match, then fly to Manchester on Friday.

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