Al Jazira head coach Damien Hertog has backed his star players to play an integral role for the UAE in this month’s AFC Asian Cup 2019 after the national team drew their opening match against Bahrain on Saturday.
Ali Mabkhout, Khalfan Mubarak and Fares Juma were three of the five Al Jazira players in the national squad to be involved in the hosts’ 1-1 draw over Bahrain in their Group A clash at Zayed Sports City National Stadium.
Al Jazira’s number one goalkeeper Ali Khaseif and defender Khalifa Al Hammadi are also in the squad keeping up Al Jazira’s reputation for nurturing strong homegrown talent for the national team through its academy system.
Prolific striker Mabkhout and rising star Mubarak had a quiet game by their own standards in the Asian Cup opener, having come into the tournament on the back of some impressive displays for Al Jazira.
Mabkhout is currently the club’s top-scorer this season after finding the net 15 times in the Arabian Gulf League, while Mubarak has eight goals and nine assists with the team sitting joint-second in the league.
And Hertog is confident the pair will show their potential over the course of this month as the UAE bid to win the Asian Cup for the first time.
“They have the skills and quality to continue their form so I expect to see that as the tournament progresses,” said Hertog, who was appointed as Al Jazira’s head coach last month.
“They are obviously very good players, but their talent goes beyond that as they also make great decisions on the field that we have seen make a difference on regular basis this season. It gives them a lot of confidence and that spreads throughout their teammates during training sessions and games.
“They are skilful players and will be in a good environment in the national team. They will fit in together and I think things will happen for the national team. Like everyone else, I would love to see the UAE team going far in the tournament, which would be a brilliant way to celebrate being the hosts of the Asian Cup.”
Hertog also believes his club players, whether they play or not, will certainly benefit from being part of an elite international continental tournament.
“I want the best for our players and this will give them a lot of experience,” added the Dutchman. “It also shows they have a lot of respect for their country and the UAE are showing they are very ambitious. I hope they can all play for the UAE.”
The UAE take on India in their second group match on Thursday with victory boosting their hopes of advancing to the knockouts.
Harsh lessons taken from Saudi Arabia’s harrowing debut at World Cup 2018 fuelled a 4-0 battering of 10-man North Korea when their 2019 Asian Cup campaign got under way, according to coach Juan Antonio Pizzi.
Goals from Hattan Bahebri, Mohammed Al Fatil, Salem Al Dawsari and Fahad Al Muwallad saw the Green Falcons soar at Rashid Stadium on Tuesday. In-between, Cagliari-owned forward Han Son-kwang was sent off for two yellow cards in eight wild minutes just before the interval.
This emphatic victory in Group E provided a welcome contrast to their bow last summer when hosts Russia inflicted an embarrassing 5-0 humbling in Moscow.
“After the loss we suffered in the first game of the World Cup 2018, the team understood perfectly that they have to do everything, to do their maximum, to be organised and to obey the orders we ask of them to be a better team,” said Pizzi, who is the first tactician to win matches for the Saudis at the aforementioned global and continental competitions.
“It’s possible we might lose against other opponents, but the most important is that this is the way. And this is a plan we will follow in the next phase.”
Ex-Spain and Barcelona striker Pizzi’s charges had to show patience against a condensed North Korea, who started in a narrow 5-4-1 formation.
Al Shabab Riyadh winger Bahebri conjured the opener just before the half-hour mark with a supreme curled shot. The lead was doubled through Al Ahli Jeddah centre-back Al Fetil’s consummate back-heeled volley from a free-kick, prior to Han receiving his marching orders.
After the break, former Villarreal loanee Al Dawsari slotted home and Al Ittihad false 9 Al Muwallad made up for a plethora of misses when he smashed in from close range.
This performance made Pizzi a happy man.
The first goal scored by Hatan Bahbri earlier tonight was very historic as it was also the 1000th goal for the SaudiNT. 🇸🇦 pic.twitter.com/uXumWeKMwj— Saudi National Team (@SaudiNT_EN) January 8, 2019
He added: “It was good to start the tournament this way, winning the game and especially with the number of goals we scored. The most important thing was we implemented our own style of play.
“We move forward with the same ambition into the next phase of the tournament.
“I’m very happy personally because normally the first game of a tournament there are nervous moments, especially since we had previous experience in Australia that we lost our first game and we didn’t want that to happen with us.
“But I’m so happy and hopefully we will continue at the same level.”
The Saudis next meet Lebanon on Saturday at Al Maktoum Stadium. North Korea play Qatar a day later at Al Ain’s Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium.
India will be looking to build on their dream start in the Asian Cup – where they stomped four goals past Thailand’s War Elephants – as they take on the formidable hosts on Thursday.
The Blue Tigers are currently on top of Group A, after UAE and Bahrain played out a 1-1 draw.
A win against the UAE – something that would be perceived as an upset – could assure qualification to the round of 16 for India. A point would not do much harm to their chances, either.
We take a look at some of the talking points for the Blue Tigers ahead of this crucial tie-up.
DEFENSIVE DISCIPLINE COMES FIRST
Apart from a lapse of concentration which led to Thailand’s only goal and a mishap by Udanta Singh in the second half that could have led to another strike, the Indian defence put on a flawless show.
Should they manage to pull off an upset over the hosts, the defence will be the focal point of the game.
Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan, Anas Edathodika and Subhasish Bose deserve credit for their impressive performances. However, it was again manager Stephen Constantine who ensured there was a disciplined set up against the War Elephants.
India have been a deep-defending team throughout the Englishman’s tenure but against Thailand, the Blue Tigers set up a mid-block. This can be seen as a brave approach, but one which could work against them when they face a more organised team like UAE .
Simply put, the defence will be key for India and there is no margin for error.
SUNIL CHHETRI HOLDS KEY
The golden man stepped up at the golden moment against Thailand.
Chhetri – who overtook Lionel Messi and became the second-highest active international goal scorer – was involved in three of the four goals India scored on Sunday.
It should come as no surprise if the Bengaluru forward is the star man against UAE.
The hosts start as favourites, dominating possession and other aspects of the game. This means that India will have to be as prolific as possible with whatever little chances they manage to create.
Whether it’s about creating those chances or finishing them, there’s one man who does it better than anyone else – Chhetri.
His combination with winger Udanta Singh will be crucial in counter attacks – India’s best bet against a dominant team.