Tariq Ahmed has described being called up to the UAE national team as a “dream come true” and says it is an opportunity he is determined to grasp as the Whites look to keep their faint hopes of qualifying for next year’s World Cup alive.
Ahmed is one of six Al Wahda players selected in new coach Edgardo Bauza’s first UAE squad since being named as Mahdi Ali’s successor last month.
And victory against Thailand in Bangkok next Tuesday is imperative if the dream of reaching just a second World Cup – and first since their debut in 1990 – is to be realised.
Ahmed joins experienced international veterans, central defender Hamdan Al Kamali and striker Ismail Matar, in the squad, with goalkeeper Rashid Ali and promising youngsters Khalid Bawazir and Mohamed Al Akbari also selected.
Ahmed spoke of his ambition to represent the Whites during pre-season, having been snapped up by Wahda last summer following a string of impressive performances for Dibba Al Fujairah during their debut Arabian Gulf League campaign in 2015/16.
And the 27-year-old described the possibility of earning a first cap, either in Wednesday’s friendly against Laos or the make-or-break 2018 World Cup qualifier with Thailand a week later, as “a calling”.
“This is the first experience for me with the national team and I am proud to join the ranks of the UAE,” said the all-action Ahmed, picked by new boss Bauza on the back of a man-of-the-match display in the season-ending President’s Cup final as the Clarets thrashed Al Nasr 3-0.
“I have been summoned and this is a dream come true for me. The goal of any player is to represent his country and defend the colors.
“Playing for the national team is a big responsibility and a national duty, it is a calling for me and fills me and my family with joy and happiness. My ambition now is to excel in this period, now that I have joined the team.
“I feel great happiness and pride in joining the ranks of the national team, and I appreciate the confidence shown in me by the new coach.
“I have played for Al Wahda for one season and to be at the end of the season selected for the national team is special for me.”
Ahmed, who scored two goals in 27 appearances in all competitions last term, is excited to be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Matar and other established stars, but is also determined to help the UAE reignite their bid to reach Russia.
“The camp is full of optimism and enthusiasm and there is real desire to achieve a positive result to delight the fans,” said Ahmed of the clash with Thailand, who are bottom of Group B in Asia qualifying.
The Whites are off the pace in fourth, four points behind Australia in third, with the top two advancing to Russia and the third-placed teams in Group A and B advancing to a two-legged play-off.
“I am happy to playing with some big names in the Emirates football world like Ismail Matar, Omar Abdulrahman, Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil, and all the team players who are hoping to play a key role in achieving success for the UAE.”
Prior to jetting off to the Far East to face the War Elephants at Bangkok’s Rajamangala National Stadium on June 13, the Whites will take on Asia minnows Laos in Kuala Lumpur in two days’ time, where they are currently on a week-long training camp.
The UAE Football Association announced the fixture yesterday after original opponents Lebanon dropped out of a scheduled friendly.
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