United Arab Emirates head coach Alberto Zaccheroni is confident that his ‘evolving’ side has taken great strides over the course of the Asian Cup and are now prepared to earn their place in the final.
Despite a challenging start to the tournament, the host nation have gained momentum and only a semi-final match with Qatar stands between them and a berth in the showpiece event.
The UAE profited from a late Ahmed Khalil penalty to secure a 1-1 draw in their opener against Bahrain before beating India and drawing with Thailand to win Group A.
A narrow win over Kyrgyzstan followed in the last016 before they came into their own with a more convincing display to eliminate holders Australia, securing a spot in the last four.
“It is true to say that we had some difficulties in the first group stage games, as well as in the Round of 16,” Zaccheroni told reporters as quoted by the AFC’s official website.
“But we are evolving and our performance in the last game [against Australia] was very good. I am therefore confident that we will be able to beat Qatar with a good performance.”
On Tuesday, the Whites will play their second successive semi-final for the first time since 1996. They were the hosts then as well and on that occasion defeated Kuwait to make the final where they eventually lost to Saudi Arabia on penalties.
Zaccheroni is fully aware of Qatar’s strengths but insists that his charges are up to the task and will be completely focused at Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium.
“Qatar are a strong and organised team, and one that has yet to concede a goal. They have done well, not just here, but also in 2018. We must be highly focused in order to reach the final,” he added.
“We are all aware of the importance of the game. Each game for us is very important and we are approaching the match with Qatar as if it was a final. We are fully aware of our responsibilities, responsibilities which we are all willing to share so that we can beat Qatar in the semi-finals.”
After Ismail Al Hammadi, Mohamed Gharib and captain Fares Juma all suffered knocks during a closely contested quarter-final win over the Socceroos, there is plenty of uncertainty over Zaccheroni’s starting XI to face Qatar.
The Italian tactician however will at least be able to call on Khamis Esmaeel, who served a suspension against Australia and doesn’t seem to perturbed by the prospect of having first team players sidelined.
“What is important is that I have 21 players available,” he said.
“I always looked to involve the players based on the importance of the game, and so far, both the UAE’s experienced and younger players have shown an excellent fighting spirit on the pitch.”
“I want to achieve the goal that I set when I first came to the UAE, and that is to reach the final. That is also the aim of the players, the technical staff and everyone at the United Arab Emirates Football Association.
“The fans have supported us in all games, and we hope they will turn up in big numbers and we promise to make them happy with a win.”
History suggests the UAE hold the advantage over Qatar going into the clash as they have had the better of the recent encounters between the two sides.
The Emiratis emerged victorious in their last three meetings with the Maroons, including an emphatic 4-1 win at the previous edition of the Asian Cup, when star striker Ali Mabkhout bagged a brace.
In fact, Qatar’s winless run against the UAE dates back to 2001 during qualification for the following year’s World Cup.
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