Coach Apollo Perelini optimistic despite UAE drawing Japan in Sevens World Cup qualifying

Top two teams from tournament in Dubai next month advance to main event in South Africa next year

Apollo Perelini is confident of UAE's chances at the Sevens World Cup qualifying. Victor Besa / The National
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Apollo Perelini, the UAE rugby coach, says his players will embrace the challenge after being drawn against Japan in the qualifying event for the Sevens World Cup.

The two finalists from an eight-team tournament, to be played at Dubai Sports City on November 19-20, will advance to play at the 2022 World Cup in South Africa.

The two-day event will pit together the best sides in Asia. UAE qualified for the competition after winning the West Asia regional tournament.

They have been drawn in a group with Japan, the powerhouse of rugby on the continent, as well as Sri Lanka and China.

The top two sides in the group will advance to the semifinals, where they will be pitted against the leading teams from a group made up of Korea, Hong Kong, Philippines and Malaysia.

“We are very excited,” said Perelini, who played in the XVs Rugby World Cup for Western Samoa in 1991.

“I was hoping to be in the same pool as Japan because I think it will be a great challenge. For us as a country and as a team, we want to be in the same pool as the favourites.

“It is a great draw for us. We played Japan in 2019 in our pool games in Korea. We made it to the second half in the lead.

“They are a full professional side and we are an amateur side, made up of players who have full-time jobs. But we have worked hard these past three months.”

After winning the pre-qualifier in Doha, the national team went for a training camp in Kazakhstan earlier this month.

Mohammed Al Zaabi, the secretary general of UAE Rugby, says there are “no limits” on the team’s expectations at the qualifier.

“We won the West Asia competition, which put us into the fourth [seeding level] for this event,” Al Zaabi said.

“That means we don’t have a big history in the sport here, but it doesn’t mean we will finish fourth.

“The target for us first is to reach the semi-final. If we do that, it means we are one step away from the World Cup. If we win the semi-final, we will be in the final, and that means going to the World Cup.

“The target is big. There are no limits for us. We hope to be the surprise of this tournament.”

Trevor Gregory, an executive committee member of Asia Rugby, said the governing body are thankful that Dubai is able to host the tournament.

“Dubai has showed throughout this pandemic that they are capable of hosting events when most other countries are unable to do so,” Gregory said.

“We in Asia Rugby are grateful to Dubai for being able to step up at any time and produce a tournament of world-class standard.”

Updated: October 26, 2021, 10:34 AM