ABU DHABI // Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, yesterday personally congratulated the UAE Under-19s for winning the Asia Football Championship and awarded the players Dh500,000 (US$136,000) each for their "superb achievements". The players, among them Ahmed Khalil who scored twice to lead the UAE to a 2-1 win over Uzbekistan in the final, were received by Sheikh Khalifa at a reception at Al Bateen Palace that was also attended by Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister, and a number of other officials.
This morning, the team was due to be congratulated by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, at a ceremony being held at Al Wasl Football Club. Khalil was yesterday rewarded for his star performance by being drafted into the national squad, which has been preparing for tomorrow's 2010 World Cup qualifier against Iran. At the palace reception, Sheikh Khalifa shook the players' hands, warmly congratulating each one for the UAE's first win in the continental championship and for qualifying for next year's Under-20 Youth World Cup in Egypt.
"The achievement reflects the ability of the national youth to shoulder their responsibilities well and to make the country proud on the international arena," Sheikh Khalifa said. "Good sport nurtures the mind and creates a well-cultured generation that can hold the reputation of their country and people in their hearts above anything else." Khalil was the top scorer of the tournament in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, with four goals, a performance which earned him the most valuable player of the tournament award. The Al Ahli player, the younger brother of the national striker Faisal Khalil, said he had dreamt of making the UAE squad.
"I hope I can continue my good performances with this team and also in the future with the national team," he said. "I would like to help the national team like my brother Faisal has done and I hope for good success in the future." The youth team coach, Mahdi Ali, believes Khalil could make a difference in the must-win game against Iran. "Ahmed is a wonderful player as he is determined to perform whether in training or in the matches that we played," he said. "He scored wonderful goals in the tournament and he helped us a lot.
"I hope he can continue his good performances because I know he has a promising future." The national Under-17 team, which qualified last week for the U17 Youth World Championship finals, which will take place in Nigeria next year, were also honoured at the reception by Sheikh Khalifa. Those players will receive Dh300,000 each for their efforts. Fans celebrated the Under-19s' victory in the streets at the weekend, flying the UAE flag from their cars and blaring their horns.
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