Mahdi unhappy UAE grouped with Gulf rivals

David Cooper 26/03/2014
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Draw time: AFC General Secretary Dato' Alex Soosay holds up the name of UAE.

UAE national team coach Mahdi Ali is disappointed so many nations from the Gulf have been drawn against each other in the Asia Cup 2015 group stage, but insists it will not detract from The Whites’ ambition of reaching the last-four.

The Asia Cup draw took place in Sydney on Wednesday and the UAE were placed in Group C alongside Iran, Qatar, and Bahrain.

The UAE defeated both Qatar and Bahrain in the group stage of the 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations on the way to the title, while number one ranked Asian nation Iran, who will participate in the 2014 World Cup, will pose a strong test for Mahdi’s men.

Talking in Sydney following the draw, Mahdi believed it was a shame three Gulf nations were grouped together and therefore fewer would be representing this region in the knockout stages.

“I did not wish to have three [Gulf Cup] nations in the same group to give more chances for them to qualify,” Mahdi said. “A small competition reflecting the big one in Asia.”

The UAE are currently ranked fifth in Asia – 61st in the world – and are hotly tipped to make a big impact at next year’s tournament.

The excitement surrounding the Whites is in no small part due to their stunning form in the past 18 months; remaining unbeaten in 20 matches and qualifying for the Asia Cup top of their group with five wins and a draw.

“We have already announced we want to be in the best four teams in Asia and I hope we achieve our goal. We wish to qualify to the semi final,” Mahdi stated.

“I think that the UAE have spent a lot of planning for this generation,” he added. “I think we have a good generation who have played many tournaments.”

While Mahdi has set his team a target of reaching the last-four, group rivals Qatar are aiming for nothing less than the title.

“We don’t have any limits; we are here to win the tournament simple as that,” Qatar coach Djamel Belmadi said. “I hope we will be strong enough and good enough and believe in ourselves to go as far as possible.”

Meanwhile Iran coach Carlos Queiroz believes his team’s World Cup campaign will prove invaluable when they arrive in Australia next year.

“Football is all about pressure, and pressure to win the next game,” the former Real Madrid manager said. “I’m sure that after the World Cup the team can have a lift with the preparation and the experience, they will be more strong when they start the Asian competition.”

While Qatar, the UAE, and Iran have specific goals to reach the latter stages of the tournament, Bahrain boss Anthony Hudson is remaining more pragmatic, although the Englishman does believe his side can go far.

“We're going to quietly do what we're doing. We're building our team. We're going to be optimistic and [try] to cause an upset and do something special,” Hudson said.

“We're not going to scream and shout too loud but we're going to work hard and prepare. We've certainly come here to go very far.

“I think it's a good group and I think we've missed two or three of the big teams were familiar with. We're happy.”

FULL DRAW:

Group A
Korea Republic
Australia
Oman
Kuwait

Group B
Saudi Arabia
China PR
DPR Korea
Uzbekistan

Group C
UAE
Qatar
Bahrain
Iran

Group D
Jordan
Iraq
Japan
AFC Challenge Cup winners

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UAE to face Iran, Qatar and Bahrain at 2015 Asia Cup

Barnaby Read 26/03/2014
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Grand prize: Former Australia international Brett Emerton arrives at the Sydney Opera House with the Asian Cup trophy.

Today's 2015 Asian Cup draw in Sydney pitted the UAE against Iran, Qatar and Bahrain in Group of next year's Asian Cup tournament in Australia.

Mahdi Ali's side, who were undefeated in qualifying as they progressed to next January’s tournament top of Group E, were placed in pot two for the draw which took place at the city’s famous Opera House.

Mabkhout was the joint-top scorer in qualifying, alongside Iran’s Reza Ghoochannejhad, with five goals. In total the UAE scored 18 in six games, while conceding just three as they won all but one of their Group E matches to establish themselves as a rising force on the continent.

That run helped Mahdi’s men climb into the top 60 in the FIFA World Rankings, and although they slipped back to No61 in the last list, they did keep their place as the fifth best team in Asia.

The draw in full

Group A
Korea Republic 
Australia 
Oman
Kuwait

Group B
Saudi Arabia
China PR
DPR Korea
Uzbekistan

Group C
UAE 
Qatar
Bahrain
Iran

Group D
Jordan
Iraq
Japan
AFC Challenge Cup winners

More to follow…

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UAE fear no-one, insists Mabkhout ahead of Asia Cup draw

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Bring it on: Mabkhout (l) insists the UAE are targeting the latter stages of the Asia Cup.

Ali Mabkhout insists the UAE fear no-one ahead of Wednesday afternoon’s draw for the 2015 Asian Cup in Sydney.

Mahdi Ali’s side, who were undefeated in qualifying as they progressed to next January’s tournament in Australia top of Group E, have been placed in pot two for the draw which will take place at the city’s famous Opera House at 12:00 (UAE).

That means they are sure to share a pool with one of the four top seeds; hosts Australia, Iran, Japan or Uzbekistan, although they would not probably mind a reunion with the latter who they beat on the road Down Under.

Being in pot two brings with it the benefit of avoiding two-time Asian Cup winners South Korea, fast improving Jordan and neighbours Saudi Arabia, though banana skins lurk in pots three and four, including Qatar and Iraq.

“We haven’t spoken as players about which teams we would like to face. We do not desire a specific team so whoever comes, we are ready,” Jazira forward Mabkhout told Sport360°.

“We believe in ourselves, we are a strong team so whoever comes we are ready for them.”

Mabkhout was the joint-top scorer in qualifying, alongside Iran’s Reza Ghoochannejhad, with five goals. In total the UAE scored 18 in six games, while conceding just three as they won all but one of their Group E matches to establish themselves as a rising force on the continent.

That run helped Mahdi’s men climb into the top 60 in the FIFA World Rankings, and although they slipped back to No61 in the last list, they did keep their place as the fifth best team in Asia.

And with the 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations already in the trophy cabinet, confidence in the UAE camp is clearly high ahead of next year’s tournament.

Mabkhout added: “Our target is to go far in this competition, at least to the last eight and as much as we can we want to win this competition.”

There was no such optimism three years ago as the UAE exited the 2011 Asian Cup after the first round having failed to find the net as they garnered just a solitary point.

Barring injury, nine of the squad that travelled to Qatar are assured of their place on the plane to Australia but the national team is a much different place these days following the squad’s experiences at the London Olympics and Gulf Cup.

In all 15 of the 16 teams that will take part in Australia have already qualified, with the final place to be given to the winner of the AFC Challenge Cup, which is set to take place in May in the Maldives.

DREAM GROUP

Uzbekistan
UAE
China
AFC Challenge Cup qualifier

The UAE took four points off Uzbekistan in qualifying, and also beat them en route to the London Olympics. China stuttered into the finals as the best third-placed side while the Challenge Cup is played out between the continent’s emerging nations.

NIGHTMARE GROUP

Japan
UAE
Iraq
Bahrain

Japan are four times winners and boast international stars such as Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Hiroshi Kiyotake. Iraq took the UAE to extra-time in the Gulf Cup final while Bahrain are the highest ranked team in pot four.

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