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Apr 23, 2012

Al-Habsi targets Oman Olympic berth

Oman goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi has confirmed his desire to play at this summer's Olympics in London should his nation beat Senegal in Monday's qualification play-off.

Al-Habsi, 30, is arguably his country's most famous football export having starred between the posts for Wigan and Bolton in the Premier League in recent seasons.

And with the Olympics coming to his adopted home in England this July, the keeper is desperate to be involved despite not featuring for Oman during the qualifiers.

"I would love to be part of the Olympics,'' Al-Habsi said. "I have played many games in the Premier League but this is something different. It would be the first time in our history we had ever qualified for a tournament such as this.

"That is why I want to be with the Olympic team this week and be behind the players, so every time they look, they will see me. It is going to be far harder than any game I have played. It is a dream and everyone involved has to give everything.''

Having never previously qualified for a World Cup finals, the Olympics would be Oman's first appearance at a major international tournament outside of their own continent.

However, the Asian nation have African heavyweights Senegal standing in their way at Coventry's Ricoh Arena on Monday night and Al-Habsi feels that victory will be vital for the continuing development of football in the Middle East.

"As a region, we are late starters,'' Al-Habsi said. "But small things are making a difference for everybody. Sheikh Mansour is doing amazing things at Manchester City, Qatar has the World Cup, which is amazing.

"We had the Under-20s World Cup in UAE and Qatar. Now all the young players watch me a lot in the Premier League. They have the same dream."

Al-Habsi insists stability, something that has historically been missing from the football landscape of the Middle East, will be the key factor to the region improving.

"None of the Arabic countries give the coaches a chance to build,'' he said. "Results are demanded immediately. You can't work like that in football. You have to give a coach chance to get to know the mentality of the players.

"That is what [current Oman coach Paul] Le Guen is doing. He is trying to mix talented young players and mix them with experienced ones.

"Now we are one game from reaching the Olympics, which would be the biggest footballing achievement my country has ever had.''

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