The Alberto Zaccheroni era might have got off to a rocky start in the mountainous surroundings of Al Ain’s Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium, but Khalid Essa believes the only way is up for the UAE once the players and new coach get on the same page.
The Whites were downed 1-0 by Haiti on Friday, but a tepid first half display made way for a stirring second half showing in which only the woodwork and Haiti goalkeeper Johny Placide prevented the Whites from winning.
Zaccheroni bemoaned a maiden defeat but praised his players’ efforts after going behind to a Mahmoud Khamis own goal, and pleaded for patience post-match. And Essa followed his coach’s lead, predicating progress once the players adapt to the Italian tactician’s style of play.
“As a person we are getting to know him and we are getting better, we are all in harmony together,” said Al Ain stopper Essa, who played the opening 45 minutes before being replaced at the break by Al Jazira keeper Ali Khaseif.
“We have a very good link with him as a person, but his tactics need time. We have always played 4-4-2 and now we are playing 4-3-3 and this takes time to adapt.
“Inshallah we will be better in the next match, there will be more harmony between the players and the new tactics and style.”
The hosts initially struggled to adapt to the new-look formation, with Al Ain playmaker Omar Abdulrahman often floating into central positions from his berth on the right of the attacking front three.
But after going behind in unfortunate circumstances, they found a footing and markedly improved, particularly after the break when a flurry of changes gave them an injection of pace and energy – with Jazira’s Khalfan Mubarak and Al Wahda’s Mohamed Al Akbari joining Al Nasr youngster Jassim Yaqoob on the field.
And Boss talisman Abdulrahman echoed his clubmate Essa and coach’s plea for patience.
“This was a good test for us,” said Abdulrahman. “We are working well with Zaccheroni and he needs more time, and we need more time to understand his tactics.”
After the debacle that was the Edgardo Bauza reign, Essa insisted the friendly result mattered little in comparison to the spirited second half performance, something that was not present in the Argentine’s fleeting time in charge.
“We played for the first time together under the new coach. Regardless of the result I think the team hasn’t performed like this, with spirit, for a long time,” said Essa, pointing to a more harmonious atmosphere within the camp and an improved relationship between players and management.
“They were fighting for every ball, we threatened the Haiti goal several times but we couldn’t score and scoring is the most important thing in any football match.
“Zaccheroni is a great coach, he’s had a good career and everyone knows he’s a big name in the football world. He deals very well with all players, he treats us equally. There is no big player and small player.”
The UAE next face Uzbekistan in Al Ain on Tuesday (17:00 KO).
Yousef Abdulla could return to the Al Wasl fold for the first time since being injured against Al Ain on the opening day of the Arabian Gulf League season, but impressive young deputy Sultan Al Manthari insists the return of the Cheetahs’ first-choice goalkeeper inspires him.
Al Manthari, 22, has earned rave reviews since filling Abdulla’s gloves, featuring in seven games as Wasl have roared to the top of the AGL as well as occupying top spot in Group B of the Arabian Gulf Cup.
Abdulla might replace his protégé in between the sticks when Wasl host Shabab Al Ahli Dubai tonight, but the youngster feels Abdulla’s return is a chance for him to develop further.
“We thank God very much for the return of the great goalkeeper Yousef Abdulla, who is a great addition and I personally seek to benefit from the experience of Abdulla and Salem Abdulla and learn from them,” said Al Manthari ahead of the game.
“Their presence with me motivates me to provide the best in order to maintain my position in the team and to join the national team in the future.”
Al Wahda coach Laurentiu Reghecampf, meanwhile, insists he will not be taking Sharjah lightly, despite the fact the King are bottom of Group B with just one point and are hovering two points above the AGL relegation zone in 10th place.
Sharjah are unbeaten in their last three league games and drew 3-3 with Shabab Al Ahli in the last round of the cup, having played 72 minutes of the game with 10 men and been 2-0 down at one stage.
“We will play against a strong competitor who has not lost in two games against Al Ain and Al Ahli in the league,” said the Romanian.
“In contrast, we did not win the last Arabian Gulf Cup match against Dibba (Al Fujairah), which gives us the motivation to win.”
Al Jazira are now unbeaten in six games and made it three wins in that period as they romped to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Al Nasr to overtake their opponents at the top of Arabian Gulf Cup Group A on Friday night.
In the absence of a host of international players, Ali Mabkhout opened the scoring in the 20th minute having been called up for the UAE’s two friendlies with Haiti and Uzbekistan but released back to his club in order to continue his return to fitness.
The forward, captaining Jazira on the night, latched on to Romarinho’s defence-splitting through ball and applied a first-touch finish to give the visitors to Ajman’s Shaikh Rashid bin Saeed Stadium the lead last night.
They doubled their advantage five minutes later in identical fashion. Romarinho dropped deep and sent a through-pass to send Sardor Rashidov clear on goal. The Uzbek winger adjusted his body and placed a first-time shot past goalkeeper Mohamed Yousif.
Henk ten Cate withdrew Mabkhout in the 65th minute, introducing young Ahmed Rabeya. And the 22-year-old repaid his manager’s faith with instant impact, converting Rashidov’s cross with his very first touch to complete a comprehensive win.
There will have been both cause for concern and optimism for new UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni as he oversaw a narrow 1-0 defeat to Haiti on his bow as national team boss.
There was a lethargy in the home side’s play in the first 45 minutes in Al Ain, while the Whites struggled to adapt initially to Zaccheroni’s use of a new 4-3-3 system.
Hope sprang eternal in the Garden City, however, that the debacle of the Edgardo Bauza reign and another World Cup disappointment can now start to be eradicated – especially following a lively and spirited second half in which the Whites will have felt desperately unlucky not to have coloured the scoresheet.
But for the athleticism of Haiti’s Oldham Athletic goalkeeper Johny Placide and the woodwork, former AC Milan and Japan coach Zaccheroni would have been celebrating a morale-boosting victory.
A largely tame opening at a virtually deserted Khaifa bin Zayed Stadium was ended when the visitors took the lead midway through the half. Hulking Coventry City striker Duckens Nazon side-footed Kevin-Pierre Lafrance’s deflected cross against Khalid Essa’s left post and the unfortunate Mahmoud Khamis could only watch in horror as the ball struck his knee and rebounded into the net.
Khamis and Omar Abdulrahman fired at Placide and narrowly over as the hosts tried to respond.
As is the norm with friendlies at any level these days, a flurry of changes were made in the second half. But after a turgid opening 45 from the hosts, four changes at the break gave them an injection of energy. Al Ain centre-back Ismail Ahmed, one of them, struck the crossbar with a towering header. Shabab Al Ahli Dubai anchorman Khamis Esmail then rattled the bar, still shaking from Ahmed’s header, minutes later when he rocketed a shot goalwards from range.
When Placide got down excellently to tip Omar Abdulrahman’s free-kick around his post, the UAE could have been 3-1 up with 10 minutes of the second period gone.
Nazon could and should have doubled Haiti’s lead in between but he dallied and Mohamed Fawzi did brilliantly to block his shot following a break.
Placide prevented the hosts twice more in quick succession with a brilliant double save just after the hour. Al Wahda youngster Mohamed Al Akbari sliced through the Haiti defence but the stopper smothered his fierce strike and was then up rapidly to turn away Abdulrahman’s follow-up.
Ali Khaseif turned Jimmy-Shammar Sanon’s effort behind at the other end before Khamis came inches from atoning for his own goal when he rifled a shot just wide from outside the box.
Ahmed again rose beautifully at the back post with seconds remaining, Haiti hearts were in mouths as his downward header bounced down and over the bar.
Zaccheroni pleaded for patience to “build up” his UAE team after they showed spirit and determination in defeat last night. Zaccheroni was impressed with the desire to do improve that his players displayed.
“I was upset about the first 25 minutes and I will analyse this and their mistakes, I will not leave them alone,” said the 64-year-old Italian.
“But after that I witnessed the team performing as a collective from the goalkeeper to the strikers. This is my philosophy and I have told the players this, we have to play a collective game.
“I can say the performance for 70 minutes, I admired it. Particularly after only a few training sessions with the players. At the end of the day we had lots of chances, but were unfortunate.
“I don’t like to talk about bad and good luck but we should have scored a goal but we have to be patient. We played against a really fit team and their rank is in front of us. Honestly my team was not worse than the opponent.”
Marc Collat’s Haiti are ranked 56th in FIFA’s world rankings, 16 places above the Whites in 72nd, and Zaccheroni insists his side’s fortunes will not improve overnight.
“They have to play the Uzbekistan match (on Tuesday) from the 25th minute today,” he added.
“There will be a new plan and new tactics. We need time. Of course everybody wants everything right now but results are not available immediately. What is important for me is the concentration and focus of the players and desire to do better.
“I talked to the players and congratulated them for their efforts because this is the first match and they tried their best to implement the plan.
“In certain times they were able to create chances to score and I shook hands with all of them because of their determination.”