Real Madrid hoping to get third-time lucky

By Rajive Singh

DUBAI 12 April 2018: Denied on their first two attempts, Real Madrid are determined to get their name etched on the Hamdan Bin Mohammed U16 International Football Championship trophy this time around.

But, they face stiff competition from the likes of reigning Brazil U16 champions CR Flamengo, 2016 finalist Borussia Dortmund of Germany, Egyptian powerhouses Al Ahly and PSV Eindhoven of Netherlands.

Foremost among the world’s football clubs and nurseries, Real Madrid reached the final on their debut here in 2015, the fifth edition of the tournament, but came up short against AC Milan in the title-clash, losing 1-2. The following year, they were shocked 3-4 by Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, the eventual winners, in the semis.

Coming back, the Spaniards are hoping to they will be third-time lucky.

“As Real Madrid, and as one of the best clubs in the world, our goal always is to win the title,” said David Cuenca, the Real Madrid defender. “So that’s what we are here for. We are really thankful to Dubai Sports Council for the invitation and we are now looking forward to having a good tournament and living up to our expectations.”

Drawn in Group B alongside Dortmund and two Dubai clubs, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai and Al Nasr, Real will open their campaign against Shabab Al Ahli on April 11 and then take on Al Nasr on Friday before closing their group engagements on Sunday against Dortmund.

Group A comprises PSV and Flamengo, alongside Al Ahly and Dubai club Al Wasl, and the race for the two semi-final spots could be really close. The opening match of the group, and the tournament, itself could be a cracker with PSV taking on Al Ahly, followed by the clash between Flamengo and Wasl.

On Thursday, Flamengo, who are both the state and national under-16 champions, will take on Ahly in the first match of the evening, while PSV will meet Wasl in the second. And the final round of Group A matches on Saturday will see Wasl lock horns with Ahly and Flamengo take on PSV.

“We are always trying to be the best,” said Flamengo’s Gabriel Noga. “So our target here is to return home with the title. We are the Rio de Janeiro state U16 champions as well as the Brazil U16 champions, and we have a huge number of fans who will looking forward to us doing well here.”

“We are here to enjoy this experience and the tournament,” said Jalal Ahmed Faris of Al Ahly. “But that does not mean we are here to make up the numbers. Our goal is to reach the final and then, hopefully, go on to win the title.

“We know we are up against some of the biggest clubs in the world, but we are a big club as well and we have a huge fan-following. We know we are a good team, we believe in ourselves and we are here to compete for the title.”

Organised by Dubai Sports Council (DSC) to promote grassroots football and support the country’s budding young talents, the tournament will see juniors from three Dubai clubs – Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, Al Nasr and Al Wasl – test their might against five of the world’s top football clubs.

“This is a very important tournament because it gives us a glimpse into the future,” said Ali Omar Al Balooshi, the Director of Sports Development at DSC. “These U16 players are the generation closest to making that step up to their club first teams and their senior national teams. They are the generation who will be representing their clubs and their countries in a few years from now, and winning titles with them.

“So I wish them all the best, not just for this tournament, but for a very successful senior career in the years to come.”

Ahmed Salem Al Mahri, Manager of DSC’s Department of Sports Academies, added: “One day soon, hopefully, we can proudly say we were sitting on the same dais with these stars.

“This is what makes this tournament so special. Of course, for our local young players, this is an invaluable experience and an opportunity to compete against some of the best players from around the globe and learn from them. For our coaches, this is an opportunity to get up close with coaches from these top professional clubs, belonging to different schools of football, and gain from the experience.”