UAE's history-making Olympic team written off by all & facing Ramadan fasting dilemma

Mahdi Ali's side became the first ever Emirati team to qualify for the Games, but they have been tipped as outsiders and must choose between religion and sport this summer
By Omar Al Raisi

In a group containing hosts Team GB and a Uruguay side featuring Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, many have predicted that the United Arab Emirates Olympic side will be the whipping boys of the 2012 London Games.

However, there is hope for the history-making UAE side, who have qualified for the Olympics for the first time in their history. Coach Mahdi Ali has elected to take the team to the stunning Swiss Alps for their preparations, due to the supposed similarities between the mountainous region and London.

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They began in Montana, Switzerland, at 1,500 metres altitude, before shifting to Linz on July 3, with its breathtaking scenery and mild temperatures. In the seven friendlies UAE played during their warm-up camp, they recorded four victories, one draw and two defeats, which will have encouraged some fans.

But for UAE supporters, the prospect of seeing their Olympic side playing at Manchester United's Old Trafford or taking on Team GB at the legendary Wembley Stadium in the 2012 Summer Games is a hugely exciting one, and arguably overrides any overly optimistic ambitions of a medal.

All eyes will be on Hamdan Al Kamali, who became the first Emirati player to move to Europe when he joined Olympique Lyonnais on loan earlier in 2012, as well as promising youngster Omar Abdulrahman, who will play in the hole behind the strikers. There is also 29-year-old wildcard and captain Ismail Matar, and his likely partner in attack Ahmed Khalil, who has previously been linked with Monaco and Portsmouth.

For Al Kamali, who is yet to make his senior Lyon debut and is used to playing in front of relatively empty stadiums with former UAE club Al Wahda, his attitude towards the Games is symbolic of the team's as a whole.

"I can't describe my feelings; I am very excited and looking forward to playing in such big, historic stadiums like Wembley and Old Trafford," he told The National recently. "It is every player's dream to play at Wembley and Old Trafford, where legends have played, and I am no different. The other teams and players would want to be in our position but we deserve to be here in London, and to play at Wembley and Old Trafford."

"I am very excited and looking forward to playing in such big, historic stadiums like Wembley and Old Trafford"

- Defender Hamdan Al Kamali

However, one major obstacle that the UAE squad will have to face will not be the charges of Stuart Pearce or Oscar Tabarez, but will be the Holy month of Ramadan, and whether or not the players will be fasting during the Games. Ali has told his squad that it is their decision if they wish to fast, while Dubai's Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmed Al Haddad has given the players the option to observe the fasting at a later date, if they decide not to during the Games. It is expected everyone will take up that offer.

Gold or not, fasting or not, UAE's Olympic side are happy to be there. Whether they can turn that excitement into a surprise result or two remains to be seen, but their nation will be proudly behind them every step of the way.

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