If new UAE boss Alberto Zaccheroni’s first two matches have taught him anything, it is the irreplaceable status of Asia’s goal poacher extraordinaire Ali Mabkhout.
The striker was curiously allowed to notch for Al Jazira on Arabian Gulf Cup-duty at the same time as Friday’s frustrating debut loss to Haiti, after previously leaving the Italian’s camp because of injury.
In his absence, a combination of the woodwork and blunt finishing took the shine off a solid opening display. Tuesday night against a weakened Uzbekistan that featured just domestic call-ups, it took 15 minutes for the returning 2015 Asian Cup top scorer to exorcise this anguish.
Set free by a deft pass from resurgent centre midfielder Amer Abdulrahman, there was zero doubt from anyone inside Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium that a 31st international goal in 53 appearances was to follow. Visiting goalkeeper and skipper Ignatiy Nesterov was skipped around with nonchalant ease, prior to the ball being slid into an open net.
This was the highlight of a nondescript clash otherwise detailed by a first airing of the trademark 3-4-3 formation Zaccheroni utilised to lift the 1998/99 Serie A crown with AC Milan. A rigidity rarely present under predecessor Edgardo Bauza was also tangible, admittedly against limited opponents, in these nascent steps towards January 2019’s Asian Cup on home soil.
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“It’s only my second match,” Zaccheroni commented. “I told my players to play as a team, and to give 100 per cent on the pitch and come out with a good performance.
“We played a compact game tonight and were better organised that the first match.”
The UAE slipped into their new shape and deservedly went ahead when Mabkhout characteristically converted the friendly’s first chance.
Little more of note occurred in the opening stanza prior to Lokomotiv Tashkent centre forward Marat Bikmaev spurning a great chance at the back post in injury time.
The Whites continued to exert control after the break, without their attack sparking again. A worry for another day now Zaccheroni has chalked up a victory.
He said: “For me, there is more to do with our team. We need to take this result forward and keep improving at every game.”
Henk ten Cate is without a slew of stars as two teams meet in Round 3 of the Arabian Gulf Cup hoping to ignite their campaigns.
UAE giants Al Jazira and Al Nasr are joint top of Group A with a win and a draw from their opening two fixtures, yet they have struggled in the league. The Blue Wave are fifth in the Arabian Gulf League with champions Jazira sixth – both sides trailing in the wake of early-season pacesetters Al Wasl and Al Ain.
Both teams have players unavailable due to the national team’s friendly with Haiti on the same evening in Al Ain, but Ten Cate is proud of his young starlets who have been picked in new Whites coach Alberto Zaccheroni’s maiden squad.
Ahmed Al Attas, Mohammed Jamal and Khalafan Mubarak could feature in the Garden City, while Jazira stalwarts Ali Khasif, Fares Juma and Mohamed Fawzi are also part of former Japan and AC Milan coach Zaccheroni’s plans.
Ali Mabkhout, however, could feature for the Pride of Abu Dhabi after returning to his club to continue treatment that saw him only return to action in last week’s goalless AGL draw with Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club after almost a month on the sidelines.
“Our preparation for the next game is a little different because we miss several players, most notably Mbarak Boussoufa, Ali Khasif, Fares Juma, Mohamed Fawzi, Mohamed Jamal, Khalfan Mubarak and Ahmed Al Attas for international calls,” said former Ajax coach Ten Cate.
“Ali Mabkhout has joined the team training after the UAE national team allowed him to leave the camp in Al Ain to complete the treatment programme he started with us.”
He praised the progress of young trio Mubarak, Jamal and Al Attas, as well as emerging youngsters at the club.
“I have always been given opportunities to Ahmed, Mohammed and Khalafan,” he added.
“They are now in the UAE national team. I am also happy with the great development of Mohammed Al Attas, Salem Al Eedi and Eissa Al Otaiba this season and I will give them more opportunities in the future because they deserve it and because they need more experience and maturity.”
Despite their early season AGL struggles, both sides have found solace in the League Cup, and will hope to gain three points that would send them clear at the top of the group, while piling the misery on the team and coach that loses at Zabeel Stadium.
“We have already faced Al Ain in this competition and we won against them despite the big absences in the squad, so I am not worried about my team’s readiness to face Al Nasr,” Ten Cate added of a 2-1 win earned in Round 2 that halted a two-game losing sequence.
“I am confident that the players who will be selected for the match will use the opportunity in the best possible way, and will face the opponent in a spirit of combat to achieve the desired result.”
Cesare Prandelli’s side, meanwhile, disposed of Ajman 3-0 in the Italian’s first game in charge of the Blue Wave in September before being held to a goalless draw at Hatta last month.
Prandelli also must deal with the absence of national team players, including Tariq Ahmed and Mahmoud Khamis, but he congratulated Khalifa Mubarak and Jassim Yaqoub on their call-ups into the Whites squad to face Haiti and Uzbekistan on Tuesday.
for inviting them to the national team which also includes Tariq Ahmed and Mahmoud Khamis in preparation for the friendly and friendly matches of Haiti and Uzbekistan, stressing that this is a certificate of confidence and success for all employees within Al-Nasr football system.
“We are still suffering from injuries and absences, which always deprive us, but we will continue to work with new ideas and prepare more than one alternative in case of emergency,” said the former Italy coach, who will also be without Joan Oumari, while Salem Saleh and summer signing Marcelo Cirino, Masoud Sulaiman and Mubarak Saeed all face late fitness tests.
“I’m here to work for a two-year project and I’m looking to find factors that are always motivating players to develop their performance and reach the top of technical and physical readiness,” he added. “Everyone here is working hard to reach their goal.”
Elsewhere in Group A on Friday, Hatta, in third, will look to steal a march into the top two, when they go to Hatta, a place below them.
In Group B, meanwhile, Emirates Club will hope to leapfrog Dibba Al Fujairah into second place with victory in Ras Al Khaimah.
Damir Krznar felt Al Ain had fortune on their side as Mohamed Ahmed’s superb late goal earned a 1-0 win in the top of the table clash with Al Wahda.
Al Clasico is one of the most famous rivalries in the UAE and it certainly lived up to expectation, with 10,958 fans packed into Al Nahyan Stadium on Saturday night and providing a boisterous atmosphere.
In a tense battle on the field, it always felt like something special would be required to win it, and so it proved. UAE international right-back Ahmed cut out a sloppy cross-field pass from Mourad Batna with eight minutes to go and ran 70 yards before stylishly slotting home the winner past Clarets stopper Mohamed Al Shamsi with his left-foot.
Wahda right-back Mohamed Al Menhali had an opportunity to imitate Ahmed but his late effort crashed off the underside of the crossbar as the Boss held on amid intense late home pressure.
Al Ain assistant Krznar felt the result could have gone either way.
“I think this match was a real derby, a Clasico like you want to say,” said Krznar, the former Dinamo Zagreb and once-capped Croatia left-back.
“I think Al Ain scored because we were maybe a little bit luckier. It could have been 0-0, Wahda could have won. We had luck today, sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t.
“By lucky I also mean we had good effort, good will, good strength. It was very similar from both sides. Today everything goes on our side, but of course it could have been different.”
The visitors were without suspended strikers Marcus Berg and Douglas as well as UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem, while head coach Zoran Mamic had been banished to the stands for five matches following his outburst at the officials following last week’s 3-3 home draw with Sharjah.
Talisman Omar Abdulrhman featured, but it was his first game back after two months on the sidelines with an ankle injury.
But Krznar said the players have no problems motivating themselves for the big games.
“Our team and players never have a problem with the bigger games, we usually are not so good in the smaller games,” he said.
“We are always good in the derby matches and it was a good day for us. We know we missed three or four players. The result was primary, not the beauty of our play, but in the end we play nice and we win.”