Hosts target knockout stages

Having appeared at the two previous editions of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup without managing to get through the group stages on either occasion, the United Arab Emirates are determined to pierce that invisible barrier as hosts of the 2009 event.

"Our main aim is to reach the knockout phase of next month's tournament and we're only focusing on this for the moment," UAE captain Bakhit Alabadla told ahead of the competition, which runs from 16 to 22 November. "The group draw means we have to face two big teams in Portugal and Uruguay as well as the Solomon islands, who could cause some problems for all the teams in our group."

"Of the European sides, Portugal are among the favourites for the competition, given that several of their team play in Spain and they've a number of professionals in their ranks, including Madjer. Uruguay, meanwhile, play a style similar to Argentina who beat us in Marseille last year," continued the Emirati skipper. "Experience will play a huge role in deciding who qualifies from the group. Our players are amateurs while the other teams rely heavily on professionals and that is what could make the difference."

The UAE do, however, have Rio de Janeiro 2007 and Marseilles 2008 to look back on, and Alabadla feels that lessons were learned despite early exits. "In the last two tournaments we didn't achieved much. But we had no experience at all when we played in Rio, then in Marseille last year we started well with a good result against Cameroon only for our lack of experience to cost us in subsequent games."

I didn't achieve anything like this in ordinary football but I'm happy because I'll have more to write about in my autobiography!

"I believe that my biggest successes with the beach soccer team have been qualifying for the World Cup twice, winning the Asian Beach Soccer Championship and being voted Asian Player of the Year. I didn't achieve anything like this in ordinary football but I'm happy because I'll have more to write about in my autobiography!" continued Alabadla, considered one of UAE's finest footballers in the early 1990s.

"There is a huge difference between ordinary football and beach soccer. That said, there is very little media interest in beach soccer in the Emirates and virtually no interest at all in the national team which if I'm honest is something we miss."

"I think the progress we've made in beach soccer is down to the efforts of the players and our excellent coach Marcelo Mendes, as well as a very experienced administrator in Mohamed Alkus who has worked tirelessly to prepare the team for the tournament," said the 39-year-old star, who recently came close to ending his spell with the national side only to be persuaded otherwise by his team-mates.

Turning to Brazilian supremo Mendes, Alabadla had this to say: "Coach Mendes has brought a great deal to the UAE team. Since he took over we have qualified for two World Cups and having previously coached Portugal he has a lot of beach soccer experience. In fact, several other countries in the region are now trying to sign him because of his success with us."

"I think the World Cup will attract fans from within the UAE as well as many visitors," continued Alabadla, who expects supporters to flock to games at the temporary stadium on Jumeirah beach. This was also the setting for last year's Asian Beach Soccer Championship, which UAE won for the second time in succession.

And the UAE skipper believes a creditable display at Dubai 2009 will go a long way to boosting the sport's profile. "I believe that this tournament will be the turning point for the game in our country, especially as the Dubai Sports Council have a long-term plan to develop beach soccer in the Emirates," said Alabadla as the interview reached its conclusion.

"By the end of the World Cup we're expecting an organised league to have been set up. This can only increase the strength of the game in the Emirates and have a positive effect on the Emirati beach soccer team. We must continue to excel."

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