The UAE’s troubled journey towards January 2019’s Asian Cup on home soil looks set to include Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout after the exiled superstars were recalled for next month’s training camp in Austria.
Here, Sport360 picks through the major talking points caused by coach Alberto Zaccheroni’s 27-man squad.
IN THE GOOD BOOKS
It was an episode that rocked UAE football.
Zaccheroni caused consternation when he declined to select the celebrated pairing of 2016 AFC Player of the Year Abdulrahman and 2015 Asian Cup top scorer Mabkhout for March’s King’s Cup in Thailand.
This followed the controversial issuing of domestic bans after the duo were deemed to have broken curfew the evening before January 5’s painful Gulf Cup-final loss to underdogs Oman.
The players expected spring call-ups. Rumours abounded that Zaccheroni privately passed on them as further punishment, while public pronouncements spoke of an innocent desire to investigate other options.
A series of four low-key club friendlies and international test against Andorra – ranked 188th by FIFA, 114 places below the UAE – now await from August 1-19.
Salzburg’s idyllic countryside will provide the perfect setting to soothe any fraught relationships.
قائمة منتخبنا الوطني الأول لكرة القدم للمعسكر الخارجي بالنمسا خلال الفترة من 31 يوليو إلى 19 أغسطس استعدادا لنهائيات كأس آسيا الإمارات 2019 ..#منتخب_الإمارات #كأس_آسيا2019 #AsianCup2019 pic.twitter.com/WnAeqTUCsF— UAENT2019 (@uaent2019) July 27, 2018
ALBERTO’S ANDORRA POSER
Thrills and spills have come off the field during Zaccheroni’s dreary nine-month spell in charge.
A total of 10 games have been played under the ex-AC Milan, Juventus and Japan supremo. These fixtures have witnessed just three wins and – alarmingly – four goals.
Ordinarily, August 18’s denouement against Andorra would provide the chance to boost both these figures. Yet this is a side beaten only 2-0 by Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the same October that Zaccheroni was appointed.
Slip up at DAS.GOLDBERG Stadion and the knives could be produced by an expectant nation.
الإيطالي البيرتو زاكيروني مدرب منتخبنا الوطني الأول يتابع المباراة الودية بين الجزيرة و رودا جي سي من الملعب برفقة الطاقم الإداري والفني للفريق pic.twitter.com/V1TWfI8bDQ— نادي الجزيرة (@AlJazira_uae) July 24, 2018
NO SALZBURG SHOWDOWN
The final stretch towards the Asian Cup is upon the UAE, but don’t read too much into Zaccheroni’s list.
The likes of red-hot Under-23s prospects Mohammed Al Attas, Jassem Yaqoob and Mohamed Al Akbari are deep in preparations for the 2018 Asian Games.
Anchorman Khamis Esmail – refreshed by a switch to Al Wasl – is back and winger Mohamed Abdulrahman is out. Yet much can still change in the first half of the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League.
The Austrian hills aren’t alive with portentous sound.
After being accidentally omitted from the original draw, the United Arab Emirates and Palestine were officially added to the football tournament at the Asian Games on Wednesday .
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) hosted a limited re-draw in Kuala Lumpur to add the two left out sides alongside 24 others which participate in football at the Games next month.
AFC secretary-general Windsor John explained Games organisers failed to pass the names of UAE and Palestine to his for the initial draw, even though both teams had tried to register.
John said he was unsure of the reason behind the omission saying – “it could be some computer glitch, it could be some communication breakdown”.
He emphasized that the AFC was not running the competition, and was conducting the draw on behalf of the Olympic Council of Asia and the Indonesian organising committee.
إعادة ترتيب قرعة كرة القدم لدورة الألعاب الآسيوية الثامنة عشرة باندونيسيا تسفر عن وقوع منتخبنا الوطني ضمن فرق المجموعة الخامسة رفقة كوريا الجنوبية وقيرغيزستان وماليزيا والبحرينhttps://t.co/R1MFU4rBtQ @uaefa_ae #AsianGames2018 pic.twitter.com/sU6u0nNCIp
— UAENOC (@UAENOC) July 25, 2018
Meanwhile, Eris Herryanto, secretary-general of the Indonesian committee, revaled that the two sides had followed the registration process properly.
“They did something wrong. For example, if they registered one person more than they should have had, that won’t go into the system,” he said.
Palestine was named in Group A alongside Indonesia, Hong Kong, Laos and Taiwan.
The UAE was placed in Group E with South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia and Bahrain.
This wasn’t the first obstacle in the road to the Games, which are being held in Palembang and the capital Jakarta from August 18-September 2.
Earlier in the weekend, angry Indonesian football fans caused damage in the stands by ripping off plastic seats and hurling them onto a pitch at a stadium in Palembang scheduled to host matches at the Games.
An aspiring Dubai-based youngster who had to turn down a trial with Toronto FC 12 months ago is hoping to make his dream of playing professional football a reality in what has been an incredible journey so far.
William Wiedmer, 12, was given an opportunity that any young kid would dream of when he was asked to trial for the MLS outfit’s Under-12 team last summer. However it came at a time when his family was moving to Dubai and he reluctantly had to reject the chance.
That only fuelled his determination and as soon as they arrived in the UAE in September 2017, his parents enrolled him at Spanish Soccer School (SSS) and LaLiga Academy. The coaches were immediately impressed with his raw talent that saw him train at Under-13 at SSS while playing games at U-14 level at LaLiga.
Wiedmer will travel to Spain next summer after impressing in the du LaLiga High Performance Centre trials that will see him compete against La Liga academies.
It’s another opportunity to showcase his talent and take a step forward in making his dream come true but the fact that he has reached this far is even more impressive.
Born with pyloric stenosis – an immature digestive system that prevented him from keeping food in his stomach, at age two and half, William’s parents asked doctors to postpone the operation until the end of the summer holidays.
By that time, the condition had gone but had already shown a strong interest in football after getting a pair of shorts with a football on them. It was something he loved so much that he wore them daily before they didn’t fit anymore.
He also stopped practising judo to focus fully on playing football.
Now aged 12, Wiedmer, who studies at Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai, recalls that moment of missing out on the Toronto trial while also admitting doubts over whether he would be able to follow his dream in Dubai.
“That was very hard,” he of the Toronto trial. “I actually cried because I had worked so hard and it was what I was really hoping and training for. I also wasn’t sure what the teams in Dubai were going to be like and if anyone would want me to join their team.
“It’s really hard to try out for any new team because nobody ever wants to pass to a new kid, and it’s really hard to shine. You almost have to earn the trust of your team-mates before they will pass the ball.
“I was really lucky because the coaches at both clubs I was playing with really liked my style and put me onto their top teams. Unfortunately, I had to choose which team to play matches for even though I trained with both, so I chose the LaLiga team because I was playing on the team higher than my age group.
“I thought it would help me to develop faster if I was always playing with and against kids who were taller, faster and stronger.”
Should he impress the scouts in Spain next year, Wiedmer will take one step closer to his goal but already has ambitious plans.
“I really want to play football professionally,” he said. “I know it will take a lot of hard work but I would be so happy to play for Switzerland or Canada. I want to score the goal that takes Switzerland into their first World Cup quarter-finals.
“My next goal is to be the best on my HPC team, and to play super well when I go to Spain next summer to play against all the top academies there.
“If the scouts like what they see, then they watch you play over the years and when you are 16, they will invite you to a trial on their professional teams. Then you just need to hope that they offer you a place on their team.”