Jazira, Hilal, Partizan Belgrade prepare for Zayed International Youth Cup

Matt Jones 23:30 16/03/2016
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Al Wahda's Al Nahyan Stadium will host the event [Photo: Al Wahda]

A tournament that has unearthed some of the most prominent UAE footballers in the 16 years it has been running will kick-off in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

The Zayed International Youth Cup will be hosted by Al Wahda, with the opening and final games being played at the Arabian Gulf League side’s Al Nahyan Stadium, while others will be played at the Clarets’ Al Shahama academy.

Fellow capital clubs Al Jazira and Bani Yas will also feature at the Under-15 tournament, along with Egypt’s Al Zamalek, Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal and Partizan Belgrade of Serbia.

The winners of the league-based tournament will be crowned at Al Nahyan on Friday, March 25.

Speaking at the press conference to announce the tournament on Monday, Wahda academy director Adil Khamis said he was proud to be associated with a competition that has produced several Emirati stars over the years, including club and UAE icon Ismail Matar, as well as current Wahda players Abdulla Al Noubi and Mohammed Al Shehhi, Al Ain striker Saeed Al Kathiri and Al Nasr defender Mahmoud Khamis.

“This tournament means a lot to Al Wahda because we have taken a lot of players from this tournament over the years,” said Khamis, a former Wahda player himself, who is also a graduate of the Youth Cup.

“A lot of players are in the first team or in other clubs in the AGL, and have played for the UAE national team too. There have been more than 20 over the years.”

Veterans, including Al Dhafra midfielder Abdulsalem Juma and Al Jazira defender Basher Saeed, who have 47 and 57 UAE caps respectively, have also taken to the field at the tournament since it was first played in 1993.

“We’re happy to organise this tournament, alongside the Abu Dhabi Sports Council who wanted to organise the tournament with the club, and we thank HH Sheikh Dhiab bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the club owner, because he takes care of this tournament every year since it started,” added Khamis.

“Every year the tournament is getting better and better and the support for it is very big. We’re preparing everything and we want to make it a big one.

“We’re expecting a lot from the tournament, especially from the players. We want them to get experience and hopefully feed the first team and the national team too.”

Inter Milan, Liverpool, Bayer Leverkusen, Paris Saint-Germain, Olympique Marseille, Valencia and Atletico Madrid have all sent teams to compete in the tournament down the years, but Khamis explained that the club this year wanted to concentrate more on local opponents.

“We play against teams from Asia so we want to play more against these teams, to gain experience, to know more about their style of play,” he said.

“This time there is none from the Premier League or Europe because we want to have more experience of Asian clubs, but we have a plan to send players from this tournament abroad to gain experience from Europe and South America.”

The tournament will be based on a league format, with the winners being separated by goal difference in the event of a tie.

There will be prizes for the top three, while there will also be a team of the tournament, best player and best goalkeeper awards.

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