The UAE are “used to pressure” that comes with being champions ahead of their Gulf Cup opener against Oman on Friday night, according to coach Mahdi Ali.
The Whites have headed to Riyadh as holders following the Omar Abdulrahman-inspired 2-1 extra-time victory against Iraq in 2013. This status has guaranteed an extra focus has been placed on them, with huge numbers of journalists packing the main media centre for their first press conference.
Ali has not been without criticism recently, with his side drawing four and losing one of their last five friendlies. Lingering injury doubts about star playmaker Abdulrahman have not helped, though the boss declared he had a full roster to choose from for the game at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium.
The 49 year old – who wrote down every question before answering in a measured performance – insisted his players would not be weighed down by expectation in Saudi Arabia.
“In relation to the pressure on this team, we experienced it several times,” Ali said. “We are used to the pressure.
“There is no pressure on the UAE team to adapt and get used to.
“Two years ago, we got a title but it has become one of the past. Football only recognises certain needs and one is the amount of effort in every game.
“We are champions as a team. All players are ready to go.
“I think this competition is five steps, and tomorrow [Friday] is our first step in this competition. We hope to concentrate on our first game.”
The UAE and Oman have crossed paths a number of times at the Gulf Cup, with the Whites winning 2-0 when they previously met during the 2013 group stage in Bahrain.
Their most famous clash was decided by Ismail Matar, who scored the only goal in the final when the hosts lifted the crown for the first time seven years ago in Abu Dhabi.
The 31 year old now has more than 100 caps for the UAE, continuing to be an inspiration on and off the pitch.
Speaking on Thursday, he reiterated the desire to remain winners.
“I am happy to be present and to participate in the Gulf Cup because it is the perfect place for the masses,” the Al Wahda forward said.
“We hope to provide a positive image and seek to defend their title. We are fully prepared to meet Oman, who offer a high level of opposition.
“The Omanis have veteran Ali Al Habsi, who has won the best goalkeeper award three times. Respecting the Omani team is our foundation.”
Opponents Oman have endured a testing build-up ahead of the clash at 18:45. A trio of defeats to Republic of Ireland, Costa Rica and Uruguay saw boss Paul Le Guen booed prior to the 2-0 victory against Yemen last week.
The Frenchman – who counts Lyon and Glasgow Rangers among his former posts – stated he had the experience to deal with the criticism.
“I am not afraid. It is my job to cope with that [the criticism],” Le Guen said.
“Let my players out of that. The pressure is for me, it is better like that.
“I am not a newcomer in football. I try my best, and I am ready to cope with that.
“I am pleased to be here and looking forward for the competition to start. We are ready and happy to compete.”
Le Guen’s task of progressing Oman to the knockout stages for the first time since they claimed the title in 2009 has been made more difficult by a number of late withdrawals because of injury, star striker Imad Al Hosni heading the list.