The FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 will mark the United Arab Emirates' third appearance at the showpiece event, having also taken part at Malaysia 1997 and on home soil in 2003. UAE reached the knockout stages on both occasions, even qualifying for the Round of 16 in Malaysia despite successive 5-0 defeats by Group F rivals Mexico and England. A 2-0 victory over Côte d'Ivoire was enough to send them through in third place, however, before Ghana ended their hopes in the last 16.
They went one better as host nation in 2003, going all the way to the quarter-finals before a 1-0 reverse at the hands of Colombia. Their confidence buoyed by victory at last year's AFC U-19 Championship in Saudi Arabia, the Emiratis will be determined to build on that success at Egypt 2009.
Drawn in a highly competitive first-round group at the AFC U-19 event in November 2008, few had expected the United Arab Emirates to be among the contenders. Group wins over regional heavyweights Iraq and Korea Republic as well as Syria soon changed that, however, before UAE booked their ticket for the FIFA U-20 World Cup by beating hosts Saudi Arabia in the quarter-finals - Theyab Ahmed scoring the decider.
Already safely through to the competition in Egypt, which kicks off on 24 September 2009, the Emiratis stormed to their country's first-ever regional title by following up a 3-0 semi-final humbling of Australia with a 2-1 final win against Uzbekistan. It was the first time a team from west Asia had won an AFC youth tournament since 2000, the year Iraq took the confederation's U-19 title and Oman the U-17 crown.
Local coach Mahdi Ali Hassan earned national-hero status after masterminding a historic first continental success. What is more, he only took over the head coach's reins from Tunisian strategist Khaled Ben Yahia a week before the finals after the team had finished last in a pre-tournament warm-up event in Abu Dhabi. He was no stranger to the players, however, having initially started building this squad more than four years previously only to drop down to assistant coach on Ben Yahia's arrival.
Ahmed Khalil topped the scorers' charts and was voted the most valuable player at the competition in Saudi Arabia, while there were eye-catching performances from team-mates Ahmed Ali and Theyab Awana. Khalil is also a key member of UAE's senior national team set-up.
• The UAE have taken part in two previous editions of the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
• They head to Egypt 2009 as Asian U-19 champions.
What they said
"We are proud of what we have achieved but we need to be aware that the real challenge is still ahead of us in Egypt. I have total confidence in my boys and I know that they can continue to do their nation proud," UAE coach Mahdi Ali Hassan.
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