Australia is a country Mahdi Ali will never forget.
The 51-year-old was hailed as a national hero after he led the UAE to an incredible third-placed finish at January 2015’s Asian Cup there. This was both a shot in the arm for indigenous coaches across the continent who had been so often spurned for foreign imports, and another marking post then unhindered path to World Cup 2018 for the ‘Golden Generation.
But less than two years later, the picture has changed.
Ali has headed back Down Under for this afternoon’s do-or-die Group B qualifier with the Whites’ seemingly predestined bid to make Russia on the verge of collapse, as well as having to bear the latest round of rumours about his position and requests to tender his resignation during a torturous campaign after Thursday’s insipid 2-0 defeat at home to Japan.
A strident response is a necessity at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium, from both himself and the players he has nurtured since many of them were together in the Under-19s.
Failure to rattle an Australia side who ended their bid for glory two years ago and everything, surely, collapses.
Despite the pervasive negativity which surrounds the UAE, this should not be considered a ‘Mission Impossible’. This the best time to face the Socceroos in a decade.
A failure to strike now would be both unforgivable and add to the growing evidence that Ali’s five-year tenure in permanent charge of the senior team must be brought to an immediate end.
For the stuttering Socceroos, a long-term failure to create successors to the likes of Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka has led to four-successive competitive stalemates. Coach Ange Postecoglou’s introduction of an untried 3-4-3 formation caused another poor performance in last week’s 1-1 draw with Iraq, yet the taciturn tactician remains committed to the plan.
With influential Manchester City-owned central midfielder Aaron Mooy suspended and likely starting No9 Tomi Juric scoring just twice in his last 15 internationals, the hosts look weaker still.
On current form, it appears today’s combatants will both be battling to claim third and its potential entrance into the inter-confederation play-off.
Ali must prove he is still the right man to take advantage of such fault lines as conservative selections have stymied results; perplexingly leaving exciting Al Jazira midfielder Mohammed Jamal at home and only handing a belated call-up to roving Al Nasr left-back Mahmoud Khamis after injuries.
The choice of the veteran Ismail Matar to replace injured 15-goal, qualifying-joint-top scorer Ahmed Khalil against Japan was befuddling. His dogged determination to stick with a 4-4-2 which cuts off vital possession and fails to bring out the best in 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman remains a systemic issue.
Yet no man has done more for his country’s football.
He deserves this last shot at redemption. It is one he cannot waste.
With the famed trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar leading the line, it’s never a surprise when Barcelona top the charts for an attacking statistic.
Indeed, with the side in the Champions League quarter-finals, occupying second place in La Liga and in the final of the Copa del Rey, one would expect that the attacking play has been at the fore throughout the season.
As this stat shows, that is exactly what has happened, with La Blaugrana leading Europe in take-ons.
What’s more surprising is the composition of the rest of the top four, with forward-thinking sides such as Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Monaco not making the cut.
Each of the aforementioned teams has in fact been outshone by another team in their league.
Will Barcelona’s attacking verve be enough to win the two trophies they covet the most this season?
Most take-ons completed in Europe's top 5 leagues this season:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 27, 2017
Borussia Dortmund (671)
Atlético Madrid (669) pic.twitter.com/hdQ3d4PjHY
Professional football is not an easy job by any means.
In this video by Copa90, some of the best players in the world, including Dele Alli, Cristiano Ronaldo, Cesc Fabregas, Steven Gerrard, David Alaba, Joe Hart, Hector Bellerin, Gareth Bale, David Beckham, Kevin De Bruyne reveal secrets to becoming a pro.
Which player is your favourite?