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Abu Dhabi: While United Arab Emirates are rightly proud of their achievement in qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Italy 1990, that is far from the only occasion on which they have graced a FIFA competition. The country’s beach soccer team has made four appearances at the sport’s world finals and is all set to make a fifth at FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Bahamas 2017, which kicks off in a few days’ time.

The Emiratis made their FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup debut ten years ago in Rio de Janeiro. The 12 players that made up that pioneering squad were flying the flag for a new sport in a country that boasts many fine beaches on the shores of the Arabian Gulf. Though a whole decade has passed since then, the objective remains the same for three members of that team, who are still representing their country on the sand today.

The trio is made up of Mohamed Almazmi, who is now the team’s coach, Rami Almesaabi and Ali Karim Albalooshi (pictured above). Absent from the world finals since Tahiti 2013, UAE booked their return to the big stage at the 2017 AFC Beach Soccer Championship in Malaysia. That success meant a lot to their supporters, one of whom was famously photographed in tears during the semi-final with Japan.

Back in the big time
UAE went on to win that game, prompting their tearful fan to come down from the stands to greet the players. The supporter in question was none other than Ali Karim, one of the mainstays of the side, who had missed the game through suspension and was only too relieved that his absence had not proved fatal to their chances.

Granting an interview to a few weeks on from the qualifying competition, Ali Karim said: “I’ve never been in that situation before. I wanted to help my teammates in what was the most important match of all, just as I did in the 2013 qualifiers, when I scored two goals against Australia in the match for third place. I wasn’t on the pitch this time and things got so tense I couldn’t control my emotions. I cried with joy after we qualified. I knew we were going to make it because of all the effort we’d put into getting one of the three qualification places.”

He added: “When we got back home we didn’t rest. We stepped up our training for the World Cup, especially when we found out who we were playing. I think we’ll do well because of the skill levels we’ve got now. We can make it to the second round and we’ve got our hearts set on it. We’re excited at the idea of another major achievement.”

Did you know?
Ali Karim played 11-a-side football before taking up beach soccer. He now referees in his adopted sport, having played professional beach soccer with Seattle Sounders and the Hungarian club Golden Palace. 

Cat and mouse
Watch Ali Karim play and you will hear him being called 'Tom' by his teammates. Explaining why, the smiling 36-year-old said: “I loved running about when I was a boy and I got called ‘Tom’, after the cat from the famous cartoon series, because I was fast. The nickname stuck and my teammates call me it too. I’ve got twins now, Hassan and Amina, and I sometimes sit down with them to watch it. It’s a lot of fun.”

'Ali Tom' cast his mind back to his first World Cup, which came after he had been spotted and called up to the Rio 2007 squad by the Brazilian coach Marcelo Mendes, at which point he became a fully-fledged beach soccer player. “I didn’t think I’d be able to make the switch from grass to fine sand but I found my way into beach soccer through international matches. I worked on my game, held on to my place in the national team and then took part in three other World Cups. My passion for the game has only grown over the years. We’ve got a blend of experienced players and motivated youngsters and we can now go further than we’ve ever gone before.”

Ali Karim has not missed a match at the four world finals contested by the UAE to date, scoring six goals in his 12 appearances. He will be hoping to add to that tally in the Bahamas, though his biggest objective, one he shares with his team-mates, is to reach the second round at long last.

Souces: & AFC