UAE national team is in safe hands with Ali Kasheif

Modest Ali Kasheif tells Omar Al Raisi that it has always been his dream to cement his position as the UAE's No 1 goalkeeper.

Ali Kasheif, right, punches the ball clear during a Pro League match for Al Jazira against Al Nasr earlier this season. Lee Hoagland / The National
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Ali Kasheif has two expectations for the UAE national team: Mahdi Ali will produce improved results, and Ali Kasheif will be his goalkeeper.

"It was my dream to be the goalkeeper of the national team," he said. "I was the understudy of Majid Naser and I learned a lot from him. Now I have got this chance and I am not going to let it slip. I want to be the goalkeeper for the national team for a long time."

His appetite for glory while wearing the national colours was whetted during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, when the 25-year-old native of Fujairah was in the nets for the match with Uruguay, in Manchester, and with Team Great Britain, in London, as the UAE made its debut appearance at the Games.

"It was an incredible feeling to play in stadiums like Old Trafford and Wembley," he said. "I have seen great goalkeepers play in those stadiums over the years and then I suddenly find myself in Wembley. I cannot describe the feeling I had when I set foot on the pitch."

Mahdi Ali was the coach who led the Under 23 side to the Summer Games, and Kasheif was one of his three "over-age" squad selections, along with Ismail Matar and Ismail Al Hammadi.

The senior side returns to action tomorrow night in a friendly with Estonia at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, ahead of the Gulf Cup in January, and Al Jazira's No 1 goalkeeper predicts an upwards trajectory for the senior side.

"The national team is now focusing on the Gulf Cup 2013 and then the Asian Cup 2015," he said. "As a player of the national team, we have high hopes to qualify in the knock-out stages and then we will focus on each round as it comes. We are very positive to make the knock-out rounds."

He credits the Football Association's appointment of Mahdi Ali as senior coach for his optimism, and singles out his compatriot's ability to deal with UAE players as the secret to his success.

"The foreign coach, whenever they came to train our teams, they treated us like amateurs," Kasheif said. "Their training methods were more basic than intense. It's a misconception, maybe, that UAE football is not on a high level and they adapt their training methods to suit us.

"But we don't accept that. We are professionals and we want to be treated as complete professionals and that is what Mahdi Ali has introduced in the national team.

"His main focus is man management. He has great skills in building relationships with the players and that is why each player, even though he is on the bench, would do anything for him, because he treats everyone fairly and equally and motivates us for one cause, and that is the UAE."

Kasheif is among the young Emiratis who would embrace a chance to play and train with a European side. Hamdan Al Kamali, his teammate in the national side, spent the second half of the 2011/12 season with Lyon of France's Ligue 1.

"Not a lot of players in the UAE have played in Europe or any other major leagues but we all saw that Hamdan Al Kamali opened the doors for everyone and, after the Olympics, there is an eye on UAE players," Kasheif said. "For example, Omar Abdulrahman was invited for a trial at Manchester City.

"A lot of people say that Hamdan's six-month loan was a failure because he never featured for the first team at Lyon, but it exposed him to a new culture, a new league, new training methods and that has helped develop his game and he has brought that in the UAE Pro League and the national team."

He would not need to mull a chance to play outside the country, he said.

"I wouldn't think twice; I'd take the offer right away. After the Olympics, I had interest from a third-division club from Germany but they did not put in any offer. I don't mind if a third- or second-division European club comes calling; I will take the offer."

He considers Iker Casillas of Spain and Real Madrid the greatest goalkeeper of all time, but suggests he is not No 1 at the moment.

"Right now, without a doubt, the best goalkeeper is Joe Hart," he said of the Manchester City stopper who is an acquaintance.

"In fact, a few days ago he sent me a signed shirt, and I am very happy that he knows me from the Olympics as it has given the UAE international focus and a lot of people who didn't know our talent, now they do."

If he were given a vote for the Ballon d'Or, which goes to the top player in the world, he agrees that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo would be the top two, but his choice for No 1 might surprise some.

"Ronaldo is the best player in the world," Kasheif said. "He has shown that he can play in different leagues. He is a very versatile player. He was the best player in Portugal, in England and now in Spain.

"In such a short time, he has broken numerous records with Real Madrid and we should not forget when he came to Real Madrid they were a team in transition. He was not lucky like Messi to grow up with most of the players who are in the Barca team right now."

When asked if he thinks he is the best goalkeeper in the UAE, which seems to be the consensus of both fans and pundits, he was honest and humble.

"I let others judge who the best goalkeeper is," he said. "I just focus on my training and performance day after day and to give my all in every game.

"If people think I am the best goalkeeper in the UAE, then that makes me very proud and motivates me to work hard, because it was my dream to be the UAE national team's goalkeeper."

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