Tom Bushell talks sport

UAE football pedigree, cycling the Yas Marina Circuit and the Dubai Desert Classic

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Our columnist weighs up the UAE’s football pedigree, bikes round Yas Marina Circuit and looks ahead to the next Dubai Desert Classic.

Mahdi Ali must be loving life. The manager of the UAE football team has seen his squad rise the FIFA rankings, win the Gulf Cup of Nations and now display great performances to get their Asian Cup qualifiers off to the best possible start. On top of all of that, Ali has been announced as a new ambassador for German car group Audi – what a gig that is.

I had the pleasure of talking to the most successful UAE manager for quite some time last week: it was great to get his thoughts on where he wants the team to go. A semi-final spot at the Asian Cup 2015 in Australia is what the UAE are aiming for. The UAE have reached the final four in the tournament on only two occasions: in 1992 and 1996.

But Ali isn’t stopping there: the World Cup in Russia 2018 is the next stop for the talented UAE side. The last time the country appeared at a World Cup was at Italia ’90. Mahdi Ali himself was in the squad but didn’t get a game due to injury. The team notched up three games and three losses, but by their next visit to Russia, and with by then world-class Omar Abdulrahman hopefully still doing his thing, you wouldn’t bet against the UAE picking up a few points.

Now it’s anniversary time. The Formula One season is up and running for 2013, and F1 will come to the UAE for the fifth time in Abu Dhabi in November. This time there’s a superb range of tickets, with the opening of general-admission hill area, creating cheaper tickets for more fans.

Yet the F1 weekend isn’t the only time you can enjoy Yas Marina Circuit. Every Tuesday night is TrainYAS, with free entry to the track, enabling you to run, ride or walk around the 5.5km circuit. Sebastian Vettel grabbed the fastest lap in last year’s race with a lap of 1m 49.3s – try to match that on your bike. You won’t, obviously, but it’s great fun to take the racing line and enjoy the world-class circuit for free.

It may be the fifth year for the Abu Dhabi F1 this year, but the next Dubai Desert Classic is 25 years old. The 2014 tournament is going to be spectacular, and I hear many former champions will be playing. We all know who that includes, don’t we?
Tom Bushell hosts Sport On 7 on City 7 TV (Mon 8pm) and is Arabian Radio Network’s head of sport.

And another thing...

With the amount of Irish expats in Dubai, it’s only fair I tell you about a couple of essential Irish-focussed dates for the diary. Ireland are playing England at Wembley for the first time in years on Wednesday May 29, and Ireland are playing Spain in a friendly at the New York Yankees Stadium on Tuesday June 11. They’re worth weekends away, aren’t they?

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