Abu Dhabi: The UAE Under-23s admit their opposition at this summer's London Olympics may be "ten times" more professional, but they insist that won't stop them from proving a point in their debut on the world's biggest sporting stage.
Uruguay, Great Britain and Senegal await the UAE in Group A of the football tournament, with matches to be held at Old Trafford, Wembley and the City of Coventry Stadium on July 26, 29 and August 1 respectively.
That draw prompted Al Wasl coach and footballing legend Diego Maradona to write off their chances from the outset, saying "they won't even be given the chance to enjoy it".
But speaking on the sidelines of their honouring ceremony at Abu Dhabi's Armed Forces Officers Club on Thursday — when Shaikh Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Honorary President of the UAE FA and President of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, rewarded the team for their qualification — the players were resolute.
Al Nasr defender Ali Al Ameri said: "It's going to be tough but we will do our best and work hard to be prepared for the challenge because we need this opportunity. All players of all teams will want to do their best, but in London I hope we can do more than we did in the qualifiers which brought us here."
Al Wasl keeper Ahmad Mahmoud added: "We have the strongest group in the competition but I think our team is good and we hope we can do something to show the world we are here to compete, not just take part.
We came back
"It was Great Britain's wish to draw us because they thought we'd be easy. But they might be wrong. This is the team that won the Under-19 Asian Cup in 2008 and finished with silver at the 2010 Asian Games. We are not an easy team, we proved that in Tashkent [in the final qualifying match, which UAE won 3-2], and although we started slowly there we came back and proved people wrong."
Speaking of their qualifying campaign, which saw the UAE top their group after four wins and two draws, Al Ameri said: "The group phase of the Olympics will be much harder than qualifying and we will have to raise our game to the next level. We will have to play better than we did against Uzbekistan.
"The teams we face are maybe ten times more professional than us. But we will do our best and, who knows, anything is possible in football. This is a dream come true for us to play in these stadiums against this opposition and everyone is behind us."