The UAE are “100 per cent focused” on their hunt for a spot at the 2018 World Cup, according to centre-back Ismail Ahmed.
The Whites host lowly Malaysia tonight in Abu Dhabi as the second round of Asian Football Confederation qualifying restarts after June’s opening 1-0 victory against Timor-Leste.
There is a giant 98-place gap in the FIFA rankings between the nations competing at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, with Dollah Saleh’s visitors also coming off a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Palestine.
Speaking before the clash in the capital, Al Ain defender Ahmed declared his team-mates would be treating Harimau Malaya with the utmost respect.
He said: “We prepared for this match, it is very important for us and important for our future as we try to qualify for the World Cup in 2018. We have to depend on our capabilities and our abilities. We’re 100 per cent focused for the country to be part of Russia in four years’ time, so we have to be positive and concentrated only for the next match – which is Malaysia.”
The UAE are pursuing just a second entry into football’s grandest competition, previously gracing it in 1990.
A golden generation led by playmaker Omar Abdulrahman and hot-shot Ali Mabkhout are leading the charge, which comes after they finished a tremendous third in January’s Asian Cup.
Positive results are needed ahead of Tuesday’s difficult trip to Palestine as only top spot in Group A – which also contains regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia – guarantees progression to the next stage of qualifying.
Malaysia should provide few issues, coming into the match on a five-match winless streak.
“Nowadays there is no easy match in Asia or world football, all the national teams have improved in the past three or four years,” UAE boss Mahdi Ali replied, when asked about the impending opposition.
“We have to respect the Malaysia team, think about what they’re doing and what they can do. They lost against Palestine, but this is not an evaluation or an assessment of how they will perform.
“This game is important for us – we have to get the best out of our players. It’s an opportunity to score many goals, but we need to respect Malaysia. We must concentrate fully and score the first goal.”
The UAE’s form has been underwhelming of late against Asia’s minnows, a tight 1-0 warm-up win against Myanmar on Friday coming after the late triumph against Timor-Leste.
These muted displays provided a glimmer of hope for Malaysia boss Dollah Salleh.
He said: “We consider it’s a good time to play them but in terms of our team, we have problems with our preparations. I believe we cannot judge on results. I believe playing at home they have the best players in Asia. The most important thing is we have to perform and make sure it is not easy for the UAE to beat us.”
UAE (4-4-2): Essa; Fawzi, I. Ahmed, Salem, Al Menhali; O. Abdulrahman, Esmail, A. Abdulrahman, Al Hammadi; Khalil, Mabkhout
Malaysia (4-4-2): Fahmi; Kunanlan, Taj, Eldstal, Azmi; Akil, Rahim, Yahyah, Kalang Tie; Kumaahran, Muhammad
Where to watch
Stadium: Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium
TV: Abu Dhabi Sports HD
UAE coach Mahdi Ali has backed youthful goal scorer Mohamed Al Akbari for a bright future after his winning strike in last night’s 1-0 friendly win against Myanmar.
Al Akbari, 19, showcased a burgeoning talent for finishing when played in by Mohamed Abdulrahman to break his international duck in just his second appearance. This low effort followed on from a predatory tap in for Al Wahda during last week’s Arabian Gulf League-opening triumph against Dibba Al Fujairah.
Spots in reserve to established centre forwards Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil remain up for grabs on the road to the 2018 World Cup. And speaking after the clash with the White Angels, Ali believed a new option was emerging. “I am happy for him, it is only his second game and he has scored,” he replied when asked to comment on the striker’s breakthrough performance.
“As a striker, scoring goals at an international level is not easy. Of course, this will be very good for him and the team. I think he has a good future. As a talented player, he has to start working a little harder. We will see him in the future as one of the best strikers.”
Attention now switches to Thursday’s qualifying clash at home to minnows Malaysia. The fixture at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium is the Whites’ second assignment, following on from the slim 1-0 triumph against Timor-Leste which kicked off their campaign.
“It was good to play our first game after three months,” Ali said. “The players are coming from their pre-season camps with their clubs, so to see the level of fitness and tactical awareness was good. This gave us an idea about all the players, except the Al Ahli players [who sat out after their midweek AFC Champions League game].
“It was a good chance to give some new players a chance, there were four of them with Mohammed Ali Ayed, Mohamed Al Akbari, Ahmed Al Attas and Saeed Al Menhali. I am very happy with the game and it was a good chance before the Malaysia game.”
The UAE’s double AFC second round assignment concludes with a tricky trip to face Palestine at Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium on September 8.
The UAE gained fresh notice of a player who could be of ever-increasing importance to their 2018 World Cup hopes as youngster Mohamed Al Akbari opened his international account to secure a narrow 1-0 win against Myanmar.
A steamy and draining night in Abu Dhabi saw the 19-year-old striker calmly slot home the only goal from an inventive Mohamed Abdulrahman pass in first-half injury-time to deliver on the vast promise shown throughout his burgeoning career.
As his more-experienced Whites team-mates made hard work of a low-key friendly match against opponents ranked 92 places below them by FIFA, the Al Wahda starlet acted as constant inspiration. He could even have got a pair in just his second appearance, later striking the woodwork from a sumptuous looped pass from the more-famous Abdulrahman brother – Omar.
Al Ahli regular Ahmed Khalil is sure to take his place in the starting line-up when the competitive AFC second round qualifying action restarts at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on Thursday with the visit of Malaysia. But by the time the UAE are playing World Cup intercontinental play-offs or even the actual tournament in Russia, Al Akbari should be performing a leading role.
The stifling humidity and low-intensity nature ensured only a fraction of the cavernous Zayed Sports City venue was filled for the first home fixture since January’s third-placed Asian Cup finish, mostly by passionate Myanmar supporters who screeched at every foray forward by their lively heroes.
Whites boss Mahdi Ali did not shuffle his pack too much, when taking into account the absence of Ahli’s AFC Champions League stars and close proximity to their next match across town at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
— Matt Monaghan (@mattmonaghan360) August 28, 2015
The unfamiliar faces behind Al Akbari were found at left-back with Al Ain youngster Saeed Al Menhali and sharp Al Shabab defensive midfielder Hassan Ibrahim, a representative at the tournament Down Under who missed June’s opening qualifying 1-0 victory against Timor-Leste.
Thoughts of the impending competitive double header against Malaysia and Palestine as well as the rigours of the Arabian Gulf League’s recent start put the brakes on the Whites from kick off.
The start of a frustrating night for Asian Cup top scorer Ali Mabkhout began a quarter of an hour in, failing to lob Kyaw Zin Phyo when played in by new strike partner Al Akbari.
Worse was to follow soon after, a typically-brilliant Omar Abdulrahman throughball not being met by the requisite finish as the Al Jazira man’s low effort was palmed away when in the clear.
It was anything but one-way traffic, at this stage. Attacking midfielder Nay Lin Thun had already failed to head home an excellent free-kick by the time Thiha Zaw wasted the chance of the half for the lowly visitors as he shot straight at Khalid Essa when played through.
A disappointing goalless opening period was then avoided in injury time, Al Akbari confidently finishing low into the bottom corner after an outrageous outside-of-the-boot pass by Mohamed Abdulrahman put him into the clear.
The Wahda youngster was at the centre of the brightest moment after the interval, showing confidence to volley first time against the post from an angle when picked out by Omar Abdulrahman.
A raft of substitutions from both sides slowed an already one-paced meeting further, little more excitement following.
There was time for Mabkhout to waste another chance when his mis-control took him past the goalkeeper into a pack of defenders, before an embarrassing draw was avoided late on as replacement Suan Lam Mang’s delightful run ended with an awful cut back.