London: The moment of truth will arrive for UAE football team when they line up against two-time gold medallists Uruguay in their opening Group A match of the football competition for the 2012 Olympic Games here on Thursday.
First-time qualifiers from Asia, Mehdi Ali’s boys will be eager to impress on the grand stage and introduce UAE football to the world when they face the Luis Suarez-led Uruguay at Old Trafford at 5 pm (8 pm UAE).
“We expect our players to make the right sort of statement before the world,” UAE FA President Yousuf Al Serkal told Gulf News on the eve of this crucial match.
“This is one of the most important matches in the history of UAE football,” he added.
After their first match on Thursday, the UAE will face hosts Great Britain — led by Ryan Giggs — at Wembley on July 29 and finish off their group campaign with a match against Senegal in Coventry on August 1.
Over the past three days, the UAE squad has been holed up at the Marriott Hotel in Manchester while using the training facilities at the Manchester Grammar School. “The beauty of this first match is that neither teams know each other. Of course they have watched each other, but that is in friendly matches. And assessing an opponent based on friendly matches can be deceiving,” Al Serkal cautioned.
History, of course, favours Uruguay as they have never lost in an Olympic football competition — having claimed the gold medals when they last participated in 1928 and 1932. It will be a mismatch of sorts as the South Americans again have a powerful line-up under coach Oscar Tabarez and the captaincy of Liverpool striker and World Cupper Luis Suarez.
A positive quality in Mehdi’s boys — as they had showed their qualifying campaign — is that they are not overawed by reputations and they should once again play some uninhibited football and hope for the best.
“We do have respect for the big names here. But these are names for humans who are normal people gifted with good qualities of football. Our players too are equal to them,” Al Sarkal said.