Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, is a city of contrasts, combining east and west, desert and metropolis, progress and tradition. The silhouette of the former fishing village is breathtaking, a magnificent skyline immediately recognisable by one structure in particular.
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest skyscraper in the world – and something the Austrian national team were not going to miss during their stay in the city as part of the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2013.
“If you’re in Dubai, you simply have to see it,” goalkeeper Alexander Schlager told FIFA.com. “It’s inconceivably big – out of this world. The important thing was to get out of the hotel and clear our heads. It was a great experience.” His team-mate Daniel Ripic also thoroughly enjoyed the excursion: “It was fantastic. It’s a really cool feeling to be 400, 450 metres up and look down on the entire city. It’s beautiful. It’s something you’re only likely to experience once in life and it’s something we’ll always remember. It’s always good to get out together. It helps build team spirit.”
Change as good as a rest
The 828-metre high tower boasts even more impressive statistics. Not only is it the tallest building in the world, it is also the highest freestanding structure. There are no other buildings with more floors, a higher viewing deck or a longer wheelchair ramp. Construction lasted five years (2004 to 2009) and cost around 1.5 billion US dollars before it was finally inaugurated on 4 January 2010.
“It was something totally new for us,” said forward Nikola Zivotic. “The height is just unbelievable. When you’re looking down over the whole of Dubai, it’s just crazy, especially when it’s all lit up at night.”
For coach Herrmann Stadler the visit had an almost therapeutic effect: “It was superb. It’s nice for the players to have a change. The view over Dubai is sensational and I think everyone enjoyed it. There were one or two of our staff who had a fear of heights, but the players were fine. It was a successful trip out and the two or three hours away will help us to focus on football again afterwards.”
The focus indeed shifts to football as Austria prepare for their final group game against Iran this evening in a new venue of Al Ain. Only a win will do if they are to progress to the last 16 and should they manage to get the result they require, the players could be set for even dizzier heights than the Burj Khalifa at the U-17 World Cup.