The UAE Under-23s must show all their “enthusiasm, seriousness and desire” to get the big win against minnows Timor-Leste that will ignite hopes of advancement at the 2018 Asian Games.
Maciej Skorza’s men opened up on Tuesday in Group C with a disheartening 1-0 loss to Syria. They created few chances at Indonesia’s empty Jalak Harupat Stadium and were deservedly punished by striker Abd Al Rahman Barakat’s second-half header, via goalkeeper Mohamed Al Shamsi’s flimsy attempt at a save.
China smashed Timor 6-0 and a second-successive heavy defeat must be inflicted on the tiny Southeast Asian island nation to boost odds of progression from Sunday’s decider.
“This match is very important for the UAE, where we must win to compete for one of the qualifying cards to the second round,” said Poland’s Skorza. “My confidence is high that the players will play better than the last game and achieve a positive result.
“Each match has different circumstances. Just because Timor-Leste suffered a big defeat in the previous game, it does not mean it will be easy against them.
“We must deal with this game with all our enthusiasm, seriousness and desire to get the three points. This will maintain our fortunes ahead of the final game against China on Sunday.”
This age group has shown worrying degradation in recent years. Skorza’s predecessors failed to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics and 2018 AFC U-23 Championship.
Dinamo Zagreb loanee Ali Eid revealed the pressure of a winless, three-match run – the last two warm-ups featured a bad-tempered 2-0 defeat to Malaysia and 1-0 reversal to Saudi Arabia – was being felt by the squad.
He said: “The confrontation with Timor-Leste is an opportunity to restore confidence for ourselves, especially since we did not win in the last three confrontations – whether friendly or official matches.”
The UAE won silver in the 2010 edition and were knocked out in the quarter-finals four years ago. In 2002 and 2006, they were eliminated in the groups.
New coach Jose Luis Sierra’s imprint at Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club has strengthened after a reunion was arranged with Santos playmaker Emiliano Vecchio.
Vecchio, 29, has been given permission to travel to the UAE and undergo a medical ahead of a one-season loan with a view to purchase. If the deal goes through, it will unite a pair who together won Chile’s Campeonato Nacional Apertura in 2015 at Colo Colo.
“Emiliano Vecchio has been released to travel and will take exams to sign a contract with Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club,” Brazil giants Santos tweeted about the Argentine. “The agreement is a loan contract for one year, with option to purchase at the end of the period.”
An extensive summer refit after the merged club’s tough inaugural season has already seen Ecuador striker Jaime Ayovi drafted in from Beijing Renhe and Argentina attacking midfielder Mauro Diaz procured from FC Dallas.
Moldova forward Henrique Luvannor has trained throughout pre-season and could be retained. The Arabian Gulf League no longer requires an Asian-qualified player in the foreign quartet.
Vecchio comes to the club after one goal in 41 appearances for Santos. He boasts previous Middle East experience, notching four times in 11 QNB Stars League matches for Qatar SC in 2015/16.
In the domestic market, last term’s fifth-placed finishers – under the departed Mahdi Ali – have brought back 2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil after a well-travelled 2017/18 and landed coveted Al Dhafra centre midfielder Abdullah Al Naqbi.
The UAE’s worrying struggles at Under-23 level have continued after they suffered a 1-0 reversal to Syria during their 2018 Asian Games opener.
Maciej Skorza’s troops travelled to Indonesia holding hopes they can become the nation’s next ‘Golden Generation’. But a repeat of 2010’s run to the silver medal seems far beyond the current batch.
Few chances were created by them and they deservedly went behind just after the interval in this Group C kick-off. Lone Syria centre forward Abd Al Rahman Barakat rose above Al Wahda centre-back Salem Sultan, club-mate Mohamed Al Shamsi showing flimsy fingertips in goal to let a header through his grasp.
An inadequate response followed. If the failures to make the Rio 2016 Olympics and 2018 AFC U-23 Championship are not to be repeated, victory is now a necessity against minnows Timor-Leste on Thursday.
Where the likes of paternal coach Mahdi Ali plus future AFC Players of the Year Omar Abdulrahman and Ahmed Khalil shone eight years ago in China, only disappointment and frustration was witnessed on Tuesday at Indonesia’s deserted Jalak Harupat Stadium.
A Junior Whites attack led by Dinamo Zagreb loanee Ali Eid and Al Nasr’s Jassem Yaqoub struggled to create any chances of note. The only time this pair sparked was when the former followed in the latter’s set-up, but a flag was correctly raised for offside.
Highly rated Al Jazira prospect Mohammed Al Attas also failed to exert the expected authority in midfield. He was hooked soon after the hour mark in Soreang.
Al Shamsi had been required early doors to deny Barakat one-on-one after Sultan’s embarrassing slip. Winger Mahmood Al Baher also screwed wide when well positioned.
The killer blow would come on 53 minutes, thanks to left-back Khaled Kurdaghli’s fine cross.
Skorza must now inspire a recovery. Another defeat is not an option.