Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ain suffered a 2-1 first-leg loss to ES Setif in the first round of their Arab Club Champions Cup campaign on Tuesday.
The Boss faced the Algerian outfit in Croatian capital Zagrab and got off to the perfect start when Ibrahim Diaky slotted home a first-half penalty.
But Al Ain who fielded a strong side were unable to build on their tally and were made to pay as ES Setif equalised before half-time before finding a late winner.
The two sides will meet again in the second leg on Saturday at the same venue – Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb.
Al Ain are one of three UAE clubs in the competition with Al Wasl and Al Jazira kicking off their campaigns later in August. Altogether, 32 teams from 15 nations, apart from Qatar, Yemen and Palestine, are competing.
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.