UAE’s Fifa Under 17 team cling on to hope ahead of match with Slovakia
ABU DHABI // As they step out on to the pitch at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium tonight the boys of the UAE under 17 team will be only too aware that they are about to play the most important football match of their young lives.
As has been their custom before their two previous matches of the Fifa Under 17 World Cup – both defeats – they will pray in the changing room.
And before kick-off they will once again huddle and say a prayer.
The referee will then blow his whistle and the boys of the UAE and Slovakia will fight it out in the hope of qualifying for the last 16 of the World Cup.
For Slovakia the maths are easy – if they have a better result than Honduras, who play the group winners Brazil, then they will go through. But for the UAE, things are a lot more complicated.
The highest the UAE can finish in Group A is third, meaning their only hope is to qualify as one of the four best third-place teams from the six groups.
To finish third, the UAE must beat Slovakia and then wait until Friday, when the group stage has finished, to find out if three precious points were enough to see them progress.
Karim Matouche, the team’s fitness coach, who has been with the boys for the past 18 months at training camps in Turkey, Malaysia and Spain, admitted the expectation before the tournament was high.
“Many people think it’s an advantage to be playing on your home soil, but for these boys, who are so young, it’s a bigger pressure,” he said. “They know there is higher expectations on them than if they were playing somewhere else.”
“It’s 50-50 in the sense that it depends on our result as well as other teams’ results in other groups,” he said. “But the main thing is to focus on winning ourselves. As long as there are matches left and points to be taken, there is hope.”
And team officials are not taking anything for granted. The boys’ food and drink has been carefully controlled since they entered their training camp, with no fizzy drinks or junk food allowed. Each meal must contain half a plate of vegetables, a quarter of protein and a quarter of carbohydrate, not least before and after games. However, they have been allowed one treat a week.
The players are on a regimen of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and amino acids to enable them to recover and train harder – some days training up to three hours a day between two sessions.
In their down time, they have access to a PlayStation area and privacy away from their coaches to just relax.
“Whatever happens tonight, this isn’t the end for them,” Matouche said. “Their careers won’t stop after this. If they win it will be great, if they don’t they’ll be disappointed. But they’ll have a break then get back to their clubs and train to go forward.
“Many of them will be training for next year’s Asia Cup which will be the next focus.”
However, they will be hoping that their next focus will be next week and the last 16 of the World Cup.
Published: October 22, 2013 04:00 AM