UAE coach Zaccheroni says his players must improve ahead of Saudi Arabia clash

Denzil Pinto 24/12/2017
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Head coach Alberto Zaccheroni was happy that the UAE opened their Gulf Cup campaign on a winning note but insists there’s still a lot of work to do if they want to go all the way in the competition.

Ali Mabkhout’s first-half penalty was the only goal of the match as the Whites defeated Oman 1-0 at Kuwait’s Jaber International Stadium on Friday night.

It was Zaccheroni’s fourth match in charge since taking over in October after the 1-0 defeat to Haiti on his debut and a reverse scoreline against Uzbekistan. And while the former AC Milan, Juventus and Japan boss was satisfied with what he saw, he admits there are still areas he needs to work on ahead of the match against Saudi Arabia on Monday.

“Omani performed very well in the first 15 minutes of the match,” he said of the game in which Omar Abdulrahman was awarded man of the match.

“But we improved after that and after we scored the first goal, there was two more chances to score goals.  “In the second half, we had a good start but then Oman improved and although they did their best to try and get the equaliser, we held on to win the game.

“It was very important to win the first match and there were positive signs to take from the match but my coaching team will have to work on correcting the mistakes.”

Having been in the hot seat for less than two months, the 64-yearold acknowledges it will take time for his players to adapt but reiterated the on-going tournament forms an important part of the team’s preparations for the 2019 Asian Cup in the UAE.

Omar Abdulrahman was named man of the match against Oman.

Omar Abdulrahman was named man of the match against Oman.

“The first match of the championship is always quiet hard and it’s about planning for the players to understand step by step and understanding the coaches tactics,” he said after the match.

“This Gulf Cup is very important for us ahead of the Asian Cup. The most important thing is that the players continue preparing in all matches and training with an eye on the Asian Cup, which is our goal.”

The UAE’s next task is against Saudi Arabia, who despite fielding a second-string team, overcame hosts Kuwait 2-1 earlier on Friday evening.

Al Ain defender Mohaned Salem played the full 90 minutes in the opening victory and says picking up maximum points will give them a lot of confidence going into the Saudi clash.

Despite their rivals not being at their full strength, the 32-year-old is adamant his side will not take them lightly.

“Frankly, we have had a very good performance and proved to the coach that we are up to it,” he said ahead of the clash at Jaber International Stadium.

“The Saudi team is very strong and big but we will focus on our team’s performance and the ability to win some points will motivate us for the next match.”

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Mabkhout scores only goal as UAE defeat Oman in Gulf Cup opener

Denzil Pinto 23/12/2017
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The UAE had Ali Mabkhout to thank for after his penalty saw them start their Gulf Cup campaign on a winning note with a 1-0 victory over Oman last night.

The Al Jazira was spot on from 12 yards after being fouled in the first half and made no mistake converting on what proved to be the only goal of the game at Kuwait’s Jaber International Stadium.

But despite the three points, UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni will know it was far from an impressive performance and improvement would be needed if they are to go all the way.

Prior to the game, the Italian insisted he was relishing the challenge of the team’s tests in the Gulf Cup despite having little time to prepare for the two-week tournament.

His side were not scheduled to take part in the event considering it was due to be held in Qatar – a country in which the UAE have cut ties with since June.

But the competition was moved to Kuwait earlier this month after FIFA lifted the two-year ban on their national side competing.

Their lack of time on the training field initially showed when Oman, ranked 101 in the FIFA rankings, 28 below them frustrated the UAE in their own half.

Having seen much of the possession in their opponent’s half, Khalid Essa was called into the action by palming away Ahmed Kano’s brilliant free-kick.

But despite Oman’s encouraging start, they were left trailing 1-0 after 28 minutes Mabkhout was tripped in the penalty box, although TV replays showed there was little contact.

The striker made no mistake from the spot, sending Faiz Al Rushaidi the wrong way.

The 27-year-old could have doubled his tally for the night after being put through just moments after but the 2015 Asian Cup top-scorer scuffed his shot just wide of the post.

With the score still 1-0 going into the second-half, both sides pushed for the second goal of the evening. While Mabkhout was denited by Al Rushaidi, Omar Abdulrahman’s attempt for another penalty kick was waved away by the referee.

The UAE were unfortunate to still be holding a 1-0 lead especially when Kano raced past his marker to unleash a powerful shot across Essa’s goal.

Oman thought they had equalized when they had the ball in the back of the net and although the UAE pressed for the second, the scoreline remained 1-0.

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Club World Cup experience will help Al Jazira in future, says Boussoufa

Matt Jones 18/12/2017
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Together as one: Al Jazira.

Mbark Boussoufa says he and his Al Jazira team-mates can use the pain of a 4-1 defeat in the FIFA Club World Cup bronze medal match to fuel their challenge for domestic and Asia silverware in 2018.

Moroccan international Boussoufa insists everything “apart from the last 30 minutes” of an incredible Club World Cup was positive for Jazira.

The Pride of Abu Dhabi lived up to their nickname during a mesmerising 10 days for the reigning Arabian Gulf League champions.

After edging past New Zealand’s Auckland City in the pre-tournament play-off on December 6, Henk ten Cate’s warriors stunned AFC Champions League winners Urawa Red Diamonds in the quarter-finals. They even had the temerity to take the lead against Spanish, European and world kings Real Madrid in the semi-finals, before Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale rescued Los Blancos.

Prior to Madrid beating Brazil’s Gremio 1-0 in Saturday’s final, a hectic 10 days – in which they played four games, the most of any team – finally caught up with the host team as they were eventually blown away by Mexico’s Pachuca in the third-place play-off.

But veteran playmaker Boussoufa, one of Jazira’s stars during the tournament, was left feeling pride in his colleagues, and also hopeful for the rest of the season.

“It’s very important to use this experience as a platform for the rest of the season,” said former Ajax and Chelsea starlet Boussoufa, 33.

“Because of the experience. You have to understand a lot of players never played on this level. So to play on this level is very good. It’s good to have this experience and take it with you in your backpack for the future. Especially for some young players.”

One of those young players, 22-year-old Khalfan Mubarak, made it 1-1 for Jazira on Saturday in the 57th minute following Jonathan Urretaviscaya’s first-half opener for the CONCACAF Champions League winners.

But they fell 2-1 behind minutes later as Diego Alonson’s side eventually marched to a comfortable victory.

Fatigue was an inevitable consequence of so much football in such a short space of time for Jazira’s injury-ravaged squad, said Boussoufa.

“I think we got punished for our mistakes. Silly mistakes,” he said.

“It’s too bad we couldn’t come back when we scored. Right back to 2-1 and then it’s difficult. Then the tiredness came in and another mistake with the penalty.

“It’s too bad but overall I think we did a very good job. I’m very proud of them. No-one expected us to come this far in the tournament and well done to everybody.

“Everything was very positive apart from the last 30 minutes. We wanted that third place but it’s understandable with the fatigue.

“This level and this intensity, four games in 10 days, is absurd. My muscles are gone, it’s dangerous because you can pull any muscle any time.

“But we did it and we came out without any major injuries, which is most important. We could have done better in this last game but it was a little bit too much I think, the fourth one.”

Ten Cate’s troops are fifth domestically, nine points off joint AGL leaders Al Wasl and Al Ain, although they are currently riding a six-match unbeaten league run.

They also have a new ACL campaign to look forward to in the new year. And Boussoufa claims the players, especially the youngers ones, will have learnt a great deal from their Club World Cup experience.

“You always feel disappointment, no matter how old you are,” added Boussoufa, who will hope to be part of the Atlas Lions squad in Russia next summer.

“But we are happy we did well. I’m disappointed but we just need a bit of time. We can be proud. The young players will understand and we can only learn as a team from this. OK, I have experience but even I learn every day. I’m very positive for the future.

“To come here as an inexperienced side, having not made it that far in the Champions League before, and do well like this, it has to do with the players, as well as the coach, the staff, all of them.”

The diminutive schemer came straight back into Jazira’s starting 11 for the Auckland game following three weeks away with the national team. And he revealed he is looking forward to a brief break now, with the Gulf Cup in Kuwait taking precedence in the UAE from Friday.

“I came back straight away against Auckland after three weeks away and I felt very heavy,” he said.

“But I’m proud of myself for what I’ve done. I can say I played well in all of the games, I’m just really tired right now. I’m on the limit. It’s important and good for yourself personally you can perform like that, especially on a big stage like this.”

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