Two years ago at the last FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico, the host-nation side was fuelled by boisterous crowds throughout their undefeated, drawless run to the title, which culminated in a 2-0 victory over Uruguay in front of nearly 100,000 fans at the legendary Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
This is the type of scenario the current United Arab Emirates U-17 players dream about. As the UAE takes the baton as host of the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2013 this autumn, some of its brightest young footballers are well into preparations to represent the nation on home soil in a little over six months. Members of the UAE side widely agreed that the training sessions have been particularly focused, driven by the vision of great victories earned in front of friends, family and countrymen.
“Playing in a World Cup event in front of your country, the lights do not get any brighter than this, and few players ever have a chance to experience it,” said team captain and midfielder Humaid Abdulla. “We are determined in our training, because we want to make the most of it.”
Looking at UAE football’s finest moments at home, one would have to include the last home victory of the 1990 FIFA World Cup™-qualifying side. It was a 1-0 win against Kuwait on 3 February, 1989 in the first round of AFC qualifying, as hometown boy Adnan Al Talyani scored the game-winner in Sharjah and sent the team through to the next and last qualifying stage in Singapore, where the UAE of course advanced to Italy.
The UAE captured a trophy on home soil at the Gulf Cup of Nations in 2007, when Ismael Matar brought the Abu Dhabi crowd to its feet with his clutch goal against neighbour Oman in the 1-0 finals.
At the first FIFA event staged in the UAE, the 2003 U-20 World Cup, 15,000 fans in Abu Dhabi saw the UAE topple Panama 2-1 thanks to Saleh Hamad’s exciting 80th-minute winner.
Most recently during the UAE’s run to qualifying for the London 2012 Olympics, more than 28,000 fans at Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium went into a frenzy when young star Omar Abdulrahman – an official ambassador at the U-17 World Cup this year – scored in a 1-0 victory over Australia. It was unquestionably one of the key moments that helped secure the UAE’s first Olympics appearance in men’s football.
The 2013 UAE U-17s are well aware of the UAE’s football history, especially the recent successes, which additionally includes the winning of the 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations trophy in Bahrain this past January. They also want to help boost perceptions that the UAE is a footballing nation on the rise.
“We saw the way the country came together to support the Olympic team and the Gulf Cup team. It was fantastic. There was a buzz about it everywhere,” UAE coach Rashed Amer said. “They say that (this year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup) will be the biggest football event the UAE has ever had. We are quite excited for the 23 visiting teams to arrive, and to join with the fans in representing UAE football to the world.”