ABU DHABI // Ardent football fans may claim to breathe, eat and sleep football, but next month 26 UAE sportsmen will try to do nothing but play the game for at least 37 hours, Another 10 players from all over the GCC will join them next month for the attempt inside the Aspire Dome in Doha, Qatar, on the Guinness world record for the longest 11-a-side football match played.
"I think I'll have to take more than six, seven T-shirts for all the sweating," said Mohamed Elnenaei, an Egyptian former semi-professional footballer living in Dubai. "I know it is going to be a tough achievement, but you cannot imagine my happiness after doing this." The 26-year-old engineer and fitness buff, who says he runs 10km a day, added: "The record is something that will be recorded in the history. After 10 years, 15 years, I can tell my children."
Mr Elnenaei ranked highest among the 50 athletes who had to run, leap and do sit-ups on Monday at the Metropolitan Hotel in Dubai in what the competitors described as a gruelling, continuous test of their endurance to qualify for the event. Fourteen men aged between 21 and 35 have so far been selected from the UAE for the event conceived by the chocolate bar brand Snickers. Duplays, which organises recreational and competitive sports leagues for adults in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, ran the fitness test and hopes to find 12 more players from the UAE during a repeat of the test on Sunday.
Ten more will be picked from the GCC from an online competition. The record is 37 hours, according to the Middle East communications department for Mars, the confectionery company that owns Snickers, and was set in Germany during July last year. Derv Rao, the director of operations for Duplays, said organisers were more concerned with entrants' endurance than their football skills. Mr Rao expects the match, which kicks off at 7am on May 28, to feature a detailed schedule for rotating the 36 players on and off the pitch and into different positions, making sure they have good food to eat and a pitchside place to sleep.
Those selected will have a five-hour mock game on May 14 to work out substitutions and other logistics. "We are looking for flexible, good core strength so they will be able to handle standing for that long," Mr Rao said. "There is no test available for something like that. We are having all the medical tests over the next three days but there is no test to determine if a person is going to be able to stand that long. It is a combination of a physical and a mental test."
Nader al Mahri, a 22-year-old Emirati university student who also made the cut, is confident the team will be successful, though he expects it will be "a bit intense". "It means a lot to me" to represent the UAE in the record attempt, said Mr al Mahri, who used to compete in handball. "It was surprising to have this in the country." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org