One has to go back 18 years for United Arab Emirates' last and only appearance at a FIFA U-17 World Cup, after they finished runners-up during Asian qualifying to book themselves a place at Italy 1991. But their debut at the global showpiece left the Gulf side with few reasons to cheer, as they gained only a single point from their three group games.
After spending the next decade and a half in the footballing wilderness, the recent years have seen UAE's reemergence at continental level. While their senior national team claimed their first Gulf Cup title in 2007, the country also made groundbreaking achievements at youth level, with their U-20 team qualifying for Egypt 2009 as Asian champions and the U-17 side booking a place at Nigeria 2009. Unlike their all-conquering U-20s, the U-17 side's road to the global stage was a little bumpy. After a lackluster 1-1 draw with Yemen in their opening match, they were thrashed 6-1 at the hands of defending champions Japan. Only a 3-2 win over Malaysia sent them through to the last eight, where they raised their game to stun highly-rated Australia 3-2 to secure their spot at the finals.
UAE's strength lies in midfield where they are bossed by Fahad Salim, with Haddaf Al Ameri adding the flair. Salim became the team's top scorer in qualifying with four goals, including a brace scored in the all-important quarter-final clash against Australia. Al Ameri is already being heralded as the next Ismail Matar due to his skilful touch of the ball. Coach Ali Ebrahim has vowed to achieve good results with the team at Nigeria 2009. "We are looking forward to the World Cup and we're preparing well to showcase the progress UAE has made over the years."
Facts and figures
Ali Abdulrahman (1991), Jamal Ibrahim (1991)
Fahad Salim (midfielder), Haddaf Al Ameri (midfielder)
2 wins, 1 draw, 2 defeats, 8 goals scored and 14 conceded.
The numbers game
91 - The minute of Mohammed Abdulla's goal against Australia which sealed the UAE's spot at Nigeria 2009.
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