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01 May, 2022
28 February, 2023
2 Ahmed Abdullateef Abdulelah Abdullateef Albreiki (UAE), 23 Qais Omar Alshabebi (UAE)
23/02/2023
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Alshabebi gets rid of ghost from the past as UAE advance to Asia Cup Qualifiers

DOHA (Qatar) - Shortly after the customary exchange of postgame pleasantries, Qais Omar Alshabebi and UAE gathered at center court and posed for cameras for a moment, with all smiles while flexing and screaming in joy.

They had just beaten Palestine in convincing fashion, 74-51, to conclude their FIBA Asia Cup 2025 Pre-Qualifiers campaign.

"It’s been rough all these years not having to play the Qualifiers or the Asia Cup."

 

But that expression of elation heard within the Lusail Multipurpose Hall wasn't only because they won. Regardless of the result, UAE had already accomplished their goal a day before Group E play wrapped up.

The Emirati dribblers were able to secure a ticket to the Asia Cup Qualifiers in the second gameday, joining Palestine, Iraq, and Qatar.

"Been dreaming for this moment to reach the Qualifiers," said Alshabebi, who finished with 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists in the triumph.

Not only was it the culmination of a dream, but their achievement also meant the exorcism of a ghost that haunted the veteran internationalist for years.

OH, SO CLOSE

It was June 30, 2018 and the last bus going from the GBA Pre-Qualifiers to the Asia Cup 2021 Pre-Qualifiers were fought for by UAE and Saudi Arabia.

The edge appeared to be on Alshabebi and Co. since the battleground was in Dubai. And the goal was pretty simple: win and go straight to the next stage.

Fate, however, had other plans. The home team lost, 88-85, and KSA went on to join Bahrain as the teams from the Gulf to reach the Asia Cup Pre-Qualifiers.

Eventually, those two would become among the 16 nations that made it to the Asia Cup proper in Jakarta, Indonesia in July of last year.

Life went on for UAE after falling just short of passing the mission. But Alshabebi admitted that it wasn't easy to see KSA and Bahrain go out and play against the best of the best in the continent while they were mere spectators from home.

"It’s been a long time. Almost five years, if I’m not mistaken," recalled the 31-year-old. "It’s been very hard to watch Bahrain and Saudi Arabia play in Asia and get all the benefits from playing all around Asia."

"And, have all that competitive experience playing against the best teams in Asia. To be honest, it was a bitter feeling," he added.

SWEETER THE SECOND TIME

Fast forward to 2023 and UAE finally attained their goal by making it to the Asia Cup 2025 Qualifiers, which is set to commence later this year.

They sure did earn it. After splitting their assignments in the First Round, the wards of Coach Ben Slimane would go on two of their three assignments in the Second Round, capped off by that big win over Palestine.

"We are a family. We fight together," said Alshabebi, who was part of the team that played in Asia Cup 2011 -- the last UAE team that saw action in the continental hoops conclave.

And the 2.00 M (6'7") big man was undeniably a major driving force in it. He ended the Pre-Qualifiers as one of the tournament's best scorers with 20.6 points per outing, together with 10.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists.

That steadiness, he said, is a product of his refusing to settle and being constantly in pursuit of being better at every given opportunity.

"Just being unsatisfied," said the Shabab Al Ahli star. "I love to compete and show my best every time I’m on the court. Plus, the energy I get from my teammates. It’s enough for me to give my all and leave it out on the court."

Surely, that kind of mentality would augur him well once they set foot into the Asia Cup Qualifiers, where bigger challenges await UAE.

"It’s been rough all these years not having to play the Qualifiers or the Asia Cup," said Alshabebi. "[But we're taking it] one step at a time moving forward."

FIBA