The UAE’s fringe players will get a final opportunity to stake their claim for the Gulf Cup in tonight’s friendly against Uzbekistan, according to coach Mahdi Ali.
A full-strength side – minus injured quartet Omar Abdulrahman, Walid Abbas, Ismail Matar and Majed Hassan – took to the field in last Friday’s 1-1 draw against Australia. With less testing opposition to come, a much-changed line-up should be named at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
This could see the likes of Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa, Al Wahda defender Hamdan Al Kamali, Al Ain midfielder Mohamed Abdulrahman and Al Wasl striker Saeed Al Kathiri take the field for the last fixture before November’s title defence in Saudi Arabia.
“We have the next game with Uzbekistan,” Ali said. “We will see how the players will feel after this game and see how we can prepare the team. We will give a chance for the other players, as well.”
The Whites faced Al Shabab midfielder Azizbek Haydarov’s Uzbekistan in Group E of the qualifiers for January’s Asian Cup. They prevailed 2-1 at home in March 2013 thanks to strikes from Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkhout, before Ismail Al Hammadi opened the scoring in a 1-1 away draw a year later.
Although tonight’s meeting is non-competitive, the looming spectre of next month’s Gulf Cup means there should be no lack of fight within the UAE ranks.
They excelled in the last edition, deservedly beating Iraq 2-1 in the final to lift the trophy. Their defence kicks off on November 14 with a Group B meeting against neighbours Oman. When asked to evaluate the condition of his squad now and before the last tournament, Ali chose to focus on the effects of expectation caused by their success.
He said: “To compare two competitions, at different times and a different situation, you cannot compare. We are champions of the Gulf Cup from the last competition.
“I think this is in the past. Football knows only one language – how much effort you give in the game.
“We have to work very hard to continue performng well.
“We know we will have so many challenges in this competition. Especially, as we are champions. For us, we are used to playing under pressure – this is part of football.”