The latest batch of UAE Under-23s will fight to show they are the nation’s next ‘Golden Generation’ at the 2018 Asian Games, beginning for them on Tuesday.
Maciej Skorza’s starlets, headlined by Al Jazira defender Mohammed Al Attas and Al Nasr forward Jassem Yaqoub, will step in the footsteps of greats when their Group C-campaign begins at Indonesia’s Jalak Harupat Stadium against Syria. They have endured a riotous build-up, with Friday’s friendly against Malaysia descending into a mass brawl and Al Ain midfielder Mohamed Khalfan Al Harasi being sent home in disgrace.
Minds must now focus on the task at hand as the remaining prodigies look to enjoy the kind of success experienced by 2010’s cherished silver medallists. After the Syria opener, minnows Timor-Leste follow on Thursday prior to the pool decider against China on Sunday.
Here, we run through the prospects for the squad who will compete in a U-23 competition that is set to run until September 1.
ONES TO WATCH
There is real talent to be found in the Olympic Whites’ ranks.
Versatile defender Mohamed Al Attas looked at ease during last December’s Club World Cup, against even the likes of Real Madrid. Relative Ahmed Al Attas is coming in off both his most-productive Arabian Gulf League-campaign – with six goals – and a tug of war that has taken him to Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club from the capital.
Mohammed Abdulbasit is a fine passer of the ball and a regular in Al Wahda’s centre midfield for the past three seasons. Forward Yaqoub remains a work in progress for Nasr and the UAE seniors, but the talent is unquestionably there.
Zayed Al Ameri is a burgeoning attacker from Jazira. 2018/19 should be his breakthrough season.
Skorza, at this stage, appears to have resisted the urge to use any of three over-age spots available to him.
Skorza was selected in March to lead the UAE’s premier youth selection.
This followed a dreadful few years that saw qualification missed to the Rio 2016 Olympics and 2018 AFC U-23 Championships. Emiratis Dr Abdullah Misfir and Hassan Al Abdoli oversaw those failures.
Skorza, 46, is a three-time champion coach of both the Polish league and Super Cup, plus guided Ettifaq FC to sixth-place in the 2012/13 Saudi Professional League. His major task is securing entry to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
The ex-Lech Poznan and Legia Warsaw supremo’s preference for a 4-2-3-1 meshes well with Middle East football’s ubiquitous formation. But recent friendly losses to Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have cranked up the pressure.
PAST AND PRESENT
2010’s roster now stand as a Who’s Who of UAE greats.
2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman was the youngest squad member at 19, with 2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil scoring three times along the way to the final. These are now two of Asia’s most-celebrated players.
Wahda centre-back Hamdan Al Kamali would spend time on loan at Lyon three years later and then Bani Yas centre midfielder Amer Abdulrahman would earn a trial at Blackburn Rovers.
Scores of future UAE regulars came from this squad. Players who would feature at the London 2012 Olympics and finish third at the 2015 Asian Cup.
Continuing this production line is the UAE Football Association’s gravest task. The tournament in Indonesia will act as a barometer of their work.
Former Ajax supremo Keizer, 49, inked a two-year deal in June to replace legendary fellow Dutchman Henk ten Cate. His first competitive task comes at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on Monday versus big-spending Saudi Arabian giants in the opening tie of the first round.
The dethroned Arabian Gulf League champions face an opponent whose summer spend has landed the likes of ex-Liverpool goalkeeper Brad Jones, Watford’s Morocco winger Nordin Amrabat and Leicester City’s Musa for a reported €16.5 million (Dh69.2m).
“It’s the first official game for us in the Cup and we are looking forward to it,” said Keizer, who will be able to call on leading marksman Ali Mabkhout after he was granted a break from the UAE’s summer training camp in Austria. “Al Nassr are a good opponent and after four weeks of pre-season, it will be good to see where we are at this moment.
“For us, it’s very good and we are looking forward to the game. In terms of fitness, we are at 80 per cent because we are still in pre-season – but the same is for the opponent.
“It will be a nice game to see where we are.
“We are taking this competition very seriously. You will be able to see that in the line-up.
“This competition is a two-legged tie and we want to go far in this Cup. It’s a serious test.
“At the same time, it’s still pre-season and it’s difficult as a coach to see where we are at this moment. But it’s something will take seriously.”
تقديرا للعلاقات الاخوية بين الناديين الشقيقين 🇦🇪🇸🇦 قررت إدارة النادي توفير تذاكر مباراة #الجزيرة_النصر غدا بالمجان لمشجعي الفريقين..— نادي الجزيرة (@AlJazira_uae) August 12, 2018
تتوفر تذاكر مشجعي النصر في البوابة 28 ومشجعي الجزيرة في البوابة 21 ويخصص يمين المنصة للعائلات
تفتح البوابات الساعة 05:45 pic.twitter.com/UUMbCAsKwI
Jazira limped home a distant seventh in the 2017/18 as serious internal problems bled onto the pitch. They’ve since lost the inspirational Ten Cate, plus sold standout Brazilian forward Romarinho to Jeddah’s Al Ittihad.
Keizer has added lightning-quick Ghanaian winger Ernest Asante and experienced Cameroon midfielder Sebastien Siani to his squad. Brazilian winger Leonardo is back in the fold after he spent last term on loan at Nassr.
The Riyadh side discovered a degree of stability last season under Uruguayan coach Jose Daniel Carreno. They have since exhibited serious ambition to improve on last term’s third-place finish in the Saudi Professional League.
Expectant fans, however, may be forced into waiting to see Nigeria’s record World Cup goal scorer in action.
“It won’t be an easy game,” said Carreno. “It will be a difficult game because it’s the first match of the season for both sides.
“Ahmed Musa has had little preparation and we will have to wait and see if he will be fit for the game.
“Since it’s a two-legged tie, we don’t want to attack too much as that will open for Jazira to score. We want to be as tight as possible in defence.”
The second leg will be played at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium on September 29.
The UAE Football Association issued an apology to Malaysia and banished Mohamed Khalfan Al Harasi from their 2018 Asian Games squad after the substitute sparked a huge brawl in a tempestuous friendly between the nations.
Al Harasi, 19, erupted in anger after a collision with opposing captain Adib Zainudin during the 93rd minute of Friday’s 2-0 warm-up loss to their hosts at Shah Alam Stadium. The incident caused players and members of coaching staff from both sides to violently clash, forcing referee Suhaizi Shukri to prematurely end the match.
The outburst – of which Al Ain midfielder Al Harasi later claimed was fuelled by being spat on, without naming the alleged perpetrator – provided an unwelcome distraction just four days away from the Under-23s’ Group C-opener against Syria at Indonesia’s Jalak Harupat Stadium.
“The UAE Football Association expresses its regret for the events that accompanied the match,” an official statement read.
“The main culprit was from our Olympic team, Mohammed Khalfan Al Harasi. This was not related to our usual morals and the sporting spirit, which is always a slogan for all our national teams and clubs during all matches. Both official and friendly, and in various regional, continental and international championships.
“Based on the preliminary report submitted by the administrative body of the Olympic team, it was decided to remove the player Mohammed Khalfan Al Harasi from the list of the team participating in the 2018 Asian Games. We refer him to the committees concerned with the UAE Football Association, who will take the necessary actions according to the regulations of the organisation.
“The Football Federation has apologised to the Malaysian Football Association for the unfortunate events that do not represent the UAE player’s ethics, stressing that sport is ethical before it is competitive.”
Al Harasi is one of the latest starlets produced by the productive Al Ain academy. He has scored once in six Arabian Gulf League matches.
منتخبنا الأولمبي خسران ضد ماليزيا في مباراة ودية ، و ضرابه بين اللاعبين قبل نهاية المباراة !! pic.twitter.com/ZUwF59mxtQ— كرة الامارات 🇦🇪 (@uae_kooora) August 10, 2018
A disciplinary record in the 2016/17 Arabian Gulf Reserve League which included 10 yellow cards in 20 appearances evidences his spiky side.
The teenager attempted to explain his actions on social media.
He said: “I would like to apologise to everybody, for everything. But we have been assaulted and I was spat in my face.
“The name of the UAE is above everything. I needed to hold my nerves, a bit.
“Again, I would like to apologise for everyone in the UAE.”
Malaysia accepted the UAE’s apologies and stated they would be submitting a report to governing body, the AFC.
“After a discussion, Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) received a formal letter from UAE FA stating that they apologise for the incident and take seriously what happened and will be conducting an internal investigation for actions to be taken against players and team officials involved,” said FAM general secretary Stuart Ramalingam.
“On the FAM’s side, however, we will be submitting a report to the Match Commissioner (MC) and referee to AFC today (Saturday) and will follow up with AFC if they need anything else after AFC examines the reports from all parties.”
Maciej Skorza currently leads the UAE U-23s. Their best finish came with silver at the 2010 edition, under Mahdi Ali.