Fans of women’s football in the United Arab Emirates are excitedly awaiting the beginning of their first-ever qualifying campaign for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, to be held in Jordan, where five berths for the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 will be up for grabs.
This dream is the culmination of an organised effort in the UAE to propel women’s football to the highest level within the shortest possible time frame.
UAE first took part in the West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) Women’s Championship in 2010, where they emerged victorious and then successfully defended their title the following year.
Although this will be UAE’s first appearance in the AFC Women's Asian Cup qualifying tournament, Emirati women’s football officials have continued to set their sights high.
“We started from scratch,” said Amal Abu Shallakh, member of the UAE Women’s Football Association board and the AFC Committee for Women’s Football.
“Thanks to the interest and support shown by Sheikh Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is the Vice-chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council and Honorary Chairman of the UAE Football Association (FA), we established the Abu Dhabi Sport Club in 2004, so as to give young girls the chance to take part in all kinds of sports, including football, in line with the country’s habits and customs.
“We took that first step and the FA then approved the sport. The Women’s Football Committee was set up in 2009, and we created a women’s team on a sound basis. We hosted the West Asian Championship twice and came out on top both times, despite the presence of strong teams like Jordan and Islamic Republic of Iran.
“Now we’re hopeful that the team can qualify for the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, which would give our development efforts a real shot in the arm. We launched our school leagues – with 16 U-13 and U-15 teams – in 2012. We then built on that success by launching national teams at U-14 and U-16 level. Last but not least, we strengthened our presence right across the UAE by opening 22 training centres.”
Now all that remains is for UAE to do their talking on the pitch. Over the next two weeks, they will face Jordan (who have already qualified as hosts), Philippines, Bahrain, Iraq and Tajikistan in a tough-looking Group A, with the section winners advancing to the AFC Women’s Asian Cup Jordan 2018