The whirlwind expedition for the UAE’s next generation to reach the peak of Asian football got off to a successful, and predictable, start on Saturday night as they conquered minnows Nepal.
A brace from Al Jazira forward Ahmed Al Attas, plus efforts from the Al Wahda trio of Mohamed Al Akbari, Khalid Bawazir and Mohammed Al Hammadi, saw the men from the Himalayas sent tumbling back down to Earth as the breakneck 2018 AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers got off to a resounding start.
Coach Hassan Al Abdoli must now hope the 5-0 winning margin provides a healthy boost to goal difference in a tight Group D, from which only one side is guaranteed entry to next January’s tournament in China. With Lebanon up next on Monday and emerging Uzbekistan the final combatants on Wednesday, much work remains.
The long-term former assistant to ex-senior supremo Mahdi Ali will have been buoyed by what he saw at a Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium in Al Ain packed by patriotic Nepalese. An elan in attack was matched by exemplary concentration at the back, admittedly against severely-limited opponents.
The rout began in the seventh minute. Bani Yas flyer Suhail Al Noubi was clumsily felled in the box by centre-back Gaurav Budhathoki, allowing Al Attas to lash in from the penalty spot.
The duo then combined to give Al Attas a tap-in, with Wahda forward Al Akbari making it 3-0 with a glancing header. Playmaker Bawazir punished a handball from 12 yards before the break, with substitute Al Hammadi’s diving header rounding out the scoring on the hour mark.
Al Ain currently plan to see what happens with mothballed striker Douglas before they complete their four-player foreign quota.
Douglas, 29, was deregistered by the Boss in the New Year following a crisis of confidence in the wake of his critical penalty miss during defeat in the 2016 AFC Champions League final. But a scoring record of 29 goals in 46 games since his January 2016 arrival from Japan’s Tokushima Vortis has generated plenty of interest in him, with Qatar’s Al Gharafa plus the Chinese pair of Tianjin TEDA and Yanbian Fude all recently failing with bids.
An inability to complete the sale has had a knock-on effect in regards to the Boss’ incomings. Their pursuit of a winger has been parked, for now, until funds are brought in from the exit of the Brazilian, who has one year left on his deal.
Among the targets pursued are prolific Partizan Belgrade forward Leonardo, rising Parana Clube playmaker Renatinho and winger Guilherme of Ekstraklasa holders Legia Warsaw. Al Ain have until August 6 to register all players for the latter stages of the 2017 AFC Champions League, where they meet Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in the quarter-finals on August 21 and September 11.
They have already recruited Sweden No9 Marcus Berg from Panathinaikos and Japan defensive utility man Tsukasa Shiotani of Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Brazilian forward Caio has been retained after he scored 18 times in 45 matches during an impressive debut campaign.
Meanwhile, Brazilian giants Cruzeiro have been linked with landing Sharjah centre-back Digao.
Digao, 29, made 19 run-outs in the Arabian Gulf League last term after being procured from Hilal. UOL Sport have stated he could be set for a return home if an early release from his two-year arrangement is successfully negotiated.
Versatile South Korea defender Rim Chang-woo’s future remains unclear, with employers Al Wahda linked to countryman Lee Chang-min and potential suitors Al Wasl conflicted about buying him.
Rim, 25, has lifted the 2016/17 President’s Cup, 2015/16 Arabian Gulf Cup and scored four times in 34 Arabian Gulf League run-outs since he inked a two-year deal in January 2016 to join from Ulsan Hyundai. Fresh doubts about the $1 million signing’s future at Al Nahyan Stadium were created on Monday when media in his homeland linked him to an exchange deal with Jeju United centre midfielder Lee.
The Clarets management have stepped up negotiations for the promising 23-year-old, who has scored four times in 24 international appearances for the Taeguk Warriors’ Under-23s. This step has met resistance from new coach Laurentiu Reghecampf, who both wants to witness the in-situ player during this week’s opening training sessions and has doubts about weakening a back line which conceded 40 times as Wahda limped home fifth in the Arabian Gulf League last term under ex-Mexico supremo Javier Aguirre.
Another possible option for Rim, who possesses five senior caps for Korea, is to swap Abu Dhabi for Dubai. Wasl are fellow 2018 AFC Champions League qualifiers, yet a similar situation sees board members express interest in a target which is not reciprocated by boss Rodolfo Arruabarrena.
The Argentine would prefer to land a midfielder to fill the Asian-qualified slot in his team’s four-player foreign quota. Anchorman Park Jong-woo, 28, could be of interest after his contract was not renewed at top-flight champions Al Jazira.
Brazil-born Caio Canedo took up that role for last season’s shock second-placed finishers, on a Timor-Leste passport. Wasl have not been implicated, thus far, in any wrongdoing, but a long-term investigation by the AFC saw nine Brazilians sanctioned in March for using false documentation from the tiny Southeast Asian country.
The Cheetahs have every intention to resist intense interest from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and China in prolific forward Fabio De Lima, plus retain exciting ex-Santos playmaker Ronaldo Mendes. Disastrous fellow Brazilian Serginho is not required.
Domestically, they recruited right-back Salem Al Azizi, 24, from Al Ain on Sunday.
Elsewhere in the AGL on Monday, Santos announced a deal for Al Nasr misfit and ex-Brazil striker Nilmar.