If Edgardo Bauza’s first UAE squad is a barometer of what is to come, then the early signs look promising.
Pleasant surprises came with the rewards for goalkeeper Rashid Ali and winger Tariq Ahmed for fine campaigns with President’s Cup winners Al Wahda, while exciting Al Jazira prospect Khalfan Mubarak – a creator who never gained Mahdi Ali’s full trust – retained his spot in the 30-man list.
But the true test of Bauza’s vision will come when his tactical approach is unveiled. Central to this is how Omar Abdulrahman’s continued supreme form for Al Ain in the AFC Champions League can belatedly be translated into the race to make World Cup 2018?
A fixation on an outmoded 4-4-2 formation has hampered both the Whites throughout the quest for just a second-ever entry to football’s grandest event, and the influence of their greatest player. These problems were glaring in March’s costly defeats to Japan and Australia.
Accomplished opponents with five-man midfields dominated possession. This issue was accentuated by the perplexing free role given to playmaker ‘Amoory’, which only further constrained him as it made a stretched midfield more lopsided.
Worryingly for the 2016 AFC Player of the Year, he has so far only plundered three goals in qualifying. When reviewing his contemporaries, this is three less than Japan’s Shinji Kagawa and Saudi Arabia’s timeless Taisir Al Jassim.
He also has failed to score during seven matches in the third-and-final round.
A switch to the 4-2-3-1 regularly used by Bauza with Argentina, and which is ubiquitous in Middle Eastern football, is key to a potential upturn. Joint-top scorer – with 15 – Ahmed Khalil is happy to play as a wide forward, plus accomplished anchormen such as Al Ahli’s Khamis Esmail and Al Nasr’s Tariq Ahmed can provide a solid base.
Such an approach would give ‘Amoory’ space to strike, without his team giving up the ball. Only then can the magic touches required to prosper in Thailand on June 13 be supplied.
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