Utility man Mohammed Fawzi has urged his UAE compatriots to embrace the culture of change after new coach Alberto Zaccheroni laid out a blueprint for success at January 2019’s Asian Cup.
A profligate 1-0 loss on debut to Haiti plus an Ali Mabkhout-inspired 1-0 triumph against Uzbekistan were recorded under the ex-AC Milan, Juventus and Japan tactician during this international break. Fresh faces, such as Al Nasr prospect Jassem Yaqoub, received educational minutes in both fixtures, while the latter clash at Al Ain’s Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium saw the Italian’s trademark 3-4-3 formation wheeled out.
These alterations combined to create a marked shift from the short Edgardo Bauza-era which preceded, featuring three mixed competitive matches and a failure to make World Cup 2018. For Al Jazira’s Fawzi, who played in centre midfield in the 4-3-3 utilised against the Haitians before switching to right wing-back in Zaccheroni’s second run-out, a willingness to be adaptable is key to prospering in the latest regime.
“We’ve got a new coach and we play now with 3-4-3,” said the 27-year-old. “We have to train in this plan, for the future.
“We didn’t look for a result, we looked for something good for ourselves. We have a lot of young players, and they have a lot of energy.
“The result comes last. But when you win, you always feel happy.
“I hope in the next camp it will be easier for us. This time, the coach had only 10 days with us.
“Hopefully, he’ll have more time to learn about what the players need and what they want.”
— قناة أبوظبي الرياضية (@ADSportsTV) November 14, 2017
The Whites expect to next come together from December 9-17, with plans under way to attract European opposition.
Zaccheroni vowed to study the Arabian Gulf League in the intervening weeks to mine for more surprise call-ups.
He said: “I told the players that I’m not a coach for one or two individuals, but for the entire team.
“I’ll be looking for new players all the time because we didn’t have many of the regulars in the two games we played. I’ll be watching and scouting for new players, and providing them the opportunities.”
Veteran team manager Abdullah Saleh praised the October appointment’s early work, joking about the contrast to the high-profile failure on the Road to Russia of Zaccheroni’s nation.
He said: “I am very happy, because I feel how the Europeans deal with the professionals. I could see his plans, his brain – it was fantastic.
“He is doing good. Italy went out of the World Cup, but he is doing good.”
Shockwaves were sent through UAE football on Tuesday after leading striker Ahmed Khalil agreed a stunning early release from his monster deal signed last summer at Al Jazira, with boyhood side Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club competing to bring him back against Al Ain and Al Nasr.
Khalil, 26, inked a four-year deal worth Dh18 million per annum in July once he allowed his contract at – the now defunct – Al Ahli to expire. But the marquee arrival’s time in Abu Dhabi has been tarnished by contractual issues and ongoing problems with fitness – his last of two scoreless Arabian Gulf League-games came on September 22.
No official confirmation arrived from Jazira on Tuesday night. But Shabab Al Ahli, the Boss and Blue Wave are in the mix.
Senior figures at Rashid Stadium have been in talks with Khalil’s camp for several days and remain confident of a positive conclusion.
Cosmin Olaroiu’s side have failed to register during their previous three Arabian Gulf League matches.
Further reports in Arabic media have also stated Saudi Arabia giants Al Hilal and an unnamed Chinese Super League-outfit could enter the pursuit.
Khalil’s stock remains high after he scored a joint global high of 16 goals during the UAE’s unsuccessful attempt to make World Cup 2018.
If new UAE boss Alberto Zaccheroni’s first two matches have taught him anything, it is the irreplaceable status of Asia’s goal poacher extraordinaire Ali Mabkhout.
The striker was curiously allowed to notch for Al Jazira on Arabian Gulf Cup-duty at the same time as Friday’s frustrating debut loss to Haiti, after previously leaving the Italian’s camp because of injury.
In his absence, a combination of the woodwork and blunt finishing took the shine off a solid opening display. Tuesday night against a weakened Uzbekistan that featured just domestic call-ups, it took 15 minutes for the returning 2015 Asian Cup top scorer to exorcise this anguish.
Set free by a deft pass from resurgent centre midfielder Amer Abdulrahman, there was zero doubt from anyone inside Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium that a 31st international goal in 53 appearances was to follow. Visiting goalkeeper and skipper Ignatiy Nesterov was skipped around with nonchalant ease, prior to the ball being slid into an open net.
This was the highlight of a nondescript clash otherwise detailed by a first airing of the trademark 3-4-3 formation Zaccheroni utilised to lift the 1998/99 Serie A crown with AC Milan. A rigidity rarely present under predecessor Edgardo Bauza was also tangible, admittedly against limited opponents, in these nascent steps towards January 2019’s Asian Cup on home soil.
— قناة أبوظبي الرياضية (@ADSportsTV) November 14, 2017
“It’s only my second match,” Zaccheroni commented. “I told my players to play as a team, and to give 100 per cent on the pitch and come out with a good performance.
“We played a compact game tonight and were better organised that the first match.”
The UAE slipped into their new shape and deservedly went ahead when Mabkhout characteristically converted the friendly’s first chance.
Little more of note occurred in the opening stanza prior to Lokomotiv Tashkent centre forward Marat Bikmaev spurning a great chance at the back post in injury time.
The Whites continued to exert control after the break, without their attack sparking again. A worry for another day now Zaccheroni has chalked up a victory.
He said: “For me, there is more to do with our team. We need to take this result forward and keep improving at every game.”