United Arab Emirates have qualified for the FIFA U-17 World Cup on two previous occasions, earning their place at Italy 1991 by finishing second in the Asian qualifying zone, and booking their berth at Nigeria 2009 by reaching the semi-finals of the 2008 AFC U-16 Championship. The Gulf nation's maiden appearance saw them suffer a first-round exit after collecting just one point, but they performed better 18 years later in Africa, advancing to the Round of 16 as one of the best third-placed teams, where they suffered a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Turkey.
Interest in the national youth teams has risen considerably in recent years in the UAE, and that has had a positive knock-on effect on the senior team, who lifted the Gulf Cup for just the second time earlier this year. After missing out on the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2011 in Mexico, the committee responsible for the various national sides in the Emirates took the radical decision to add the U-17 team to the domestic U-19 championship, a move that has enabled their young stars to prepare in the best possible fashion for the global showpiece they are set to host towards the end of the year. In addition, the young Emiratis have participated in a number of demanding friendly matches, testing themselves against opponents such as Australia, Canada, Kuwait, India, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, China PR, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, winner of the 2012 AFC U-16 Championship, as well as Japan, who finished runners-up in the same event.
The team boasts strong players in key positions, like attacker Mohammad Al Akbary, who has been on fine form since his return from injury, captain Hameed Abdullah and midfielder Ali Ghuloom. National U-17 coach Rasheed Amer responded with enthusiasm recently when asked about the progress his charges had made during their friendly fixtures: “These results prove that the team is on the right track in terms of U-17 World Cup preparation. The players need to maintain this level of performance and continue to fight for every ball on the pitch; that way, we can be hopeful of stringing some wins together at the actual tournament.”
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