Ramadan, the Muslim holy month in which followers abstain from food from sunrise to sunset, coincides this year with the Olympic Games. However, this does not present a problem for UAE player Khamis Esmaeel and his team-mates, who have been given special dispensation to follow their normal routine during the tournament and honour their fasting obligations once their participation ends.
The longer that period is postponed for, the better for UAE, as an extended campaign at London 2012 would signify major success for the team. “Our Group A opponents see us as soft touches, but maybe that’s a good thing for us as we might give them a surprise or two,” Esmaeel told FIFA.com.
“Our first and overriding objective is to play some good football and progress beyond the group phase," added the defensive midfielder. "After that, we’d take it one game at a time. In the first phase, we’re set to play at Old Trafford and Wembley, which is a dream come true already. However, we’ve not come here just to take in the sights. We’re confident we can get some good results and go far in the competition.”
Their first assignment will certainly not be easy, with no less a team than a Uruguay providing the opposition. Add in the venue – Manchester United’s self-styled 'Theatre of Dreams' – and the presence of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, two South African 2010 stars currently terrorising European defences, and you get the picture.
“We’re a good team with a good coach and good players," he said. "Therefore I believe we’ll get a good result in our opening game, despite the fact that La Celeste are very strong and have great players. That said, we’ve a very good defence, so we’ll be taking the fight to them and doing what we know best, which is playing as a team and supporting each other on the pitch.”
For the El Emarat midfielder and his UAE team-mates, London 2012 will be a great opportunity to showcase their talents to the watching world – not something they want to pass up on. “Everyone will be following this. Our league is not that well-known, so we’ll be focusing on doing well to try and catch the eye. And if I could choose, then I’d like to play in the Spanish league,” said the 22-year with a big smile.
Whatever happens at the Olympics, Esmaeel and his colleagues are already household names in their homeland. And with this being UAE’s maiden participation at an Olympic Football Tournament, expectations back home are understandably running high. “They feel very proud of what we’ve achieved, so we want to do our part by making them happy,” the player said.
Of course the Olympic Games are about much more than football, and UAE will be able to sample the spirit of the Olympic Village when they head to London to face hosts Great Britain for their second game. If the opportunity arises, Esmaeel would like to witness the 100m athletics event. “I’d love to get a photo with Usain Bolt,” he said before signing off.