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.”
The UAE will be working hard to improve their finishing after securing a fourth-consecutive draw in last night’s meeting with Australia, according to coach Mahdi Ali.
The Whites rarely threatened on a night of few chances for both teams. This result ensured they have only scored one goal in those matches.
“I think it was a good game, esp-ecially as Australia are a very well organised team who had a great World Cup,” Ali said.
“We know that our players are playing a very tight schedule in the Arabian Gulf League. Today, they looked a bit tired.
“We had some easy chances to score but didn’t. We have to work harder and correct many things to prepare the team for the Gulf Cup.”
Injured quartet Omar Abdulrahman, Ismail Matar, Majed Hassan and Walid Abbas will miss Tuesday’s friendly against Uzbekistan at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, but all should be fit for November’s Gulf Cup.
Meanwhile, Australia coach Ange Postecoglou believes the UAE will be “a tough team to beat” for any side that faces them in January’s Asian Cup.
He said: “We knew it would be a tough game. The UAE have been very consistent in their form rec-ently.
“They are very settled and stable. The familiarity in their team was lacking in ours.
“They will be a tough team to beat in January.”
Durability continues to trump dynamism for the UAE.
A fourth-successive draw came last night at a sticky Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, this time in goalless fashion against Asian Football Confederation heavyweights Australia.
To stand as equals with the Socceroos, Norway, Lithuania and Paraguay shows creditable progress. The next step still awaits Mahdi Ali's men.
Al Jazira forward Ali Mabkhout came closest to finding the breakthrough. His deft chip in the first half defeated goalkeeper Mathew Ryan but was foiled by Alex Wilkinson's diligent goal-line clearance.
Tight defences win league titles, but toothless attacks can prove costly in intense tournament battles. This is the challenge for the upwardly-mobile Whites ahead of next month's Gulf Cup defence and the generation-defining trip Down Under for January's Asian Cup.
Australia, who impressed so many at the summer World Cup, rarely threatened. But neither did the hosts.
Uzbekistan on Tuesday should provide less sterner opposition.
The draining heat and humidity in Abu Dhabi had a larger influence than any player or tactic. Australian pair Massimo Luongo and Robbie Kruse were visibly the most effected, arms on hips and short of breath
With the trip to Riyadh ever looming, each selection from coach Ali increases with importance.
The most notable change came with Ismail Ahmed dropped to the substitute's bench. The Al Ain centre-back paid the price for a shoddy start to the season, culminating in Mirko Vucinic's four-goal haul during last Sunday's Al Clasico.
Superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman's boots were harder to fill. The 23-year-old was away in Barcelona receiving treatment for a knee injury, his creative presence notably absent.
Opponents Australia are going through a similar experimental process with a less immediate deadline. January's Asian Cup on home soil dominates the thoughts of coach Ange Postecoglu.
The match began with a bang. Mathew Leckie burst clear of Abdelazziz Sanquor but shot disappointingly wide.
Proceedings soon fragmented. Possession was exchanged with a frequency that visibly exasperated the roaming bosses on the touchline.
So far, so nondescript. A burst of adrenaline was provided by Bani Yas schemer Amer Adbulrahman just before the half-hour mark.
The deep-lying playmaker possesses a clarity of thought shared by few others. A look up on the half-way line saw Mabkhout breaking clear from out wide.
A perfectly-weighted pass deserved a finish his team-mate was, narrowly, unable to provide.
Goals have dried up for the UAE. Sanqour's scrappy late leveller against Lithuania their only effort in three previous, undefeated matches.
The conditions grew ever draining, the second half a test of endurance as much as aptitude.
Socceroos substitute Tim Cahill took seconds to introduce himself after coming on. The New York Red Bulls forward, the star name in the squad and whose stupefying volley against the Netherlands provided arguably the finest goal in Brazil, rose in trademark fashion to head over.
Finer chances followed for both sides. Winger Ismail Al Hammadi, the UAE's best performer on the night along with Amer Abdulrahman, showed great poise to exchange passes with Mabkhout inside the box only to provide a needlessly-rushed finish that went high into the deserted stands.
A better opportunity was fluffed at the other as the clock ticked into injury time. Cahill, again, connected with a corner, only for his downwards header to be met with a defender's finish from Trent Sainsbury to captain Ali Khaseif's relief.