UAE coach Maciej Skorza has urged his troops to double their “work, effort and focus” in Sunday’s pressurised decider against rampant China as they attempt to avoid a first group-stage elimination at the Asian Games for 12 years.
The Under-23 team suffered a listless 1-0 opening loss to Syria in Group C, but rebounded with a 4-1 thrashing of minnows Timor-Leste. They now require a result at Indonesia’s Jalak Harupat Stadium against qualified opponents who’ve scored nine goals and conceded none in both victories.
With Syria playing helpless Timor at the same time, a spot as one of the four-best third-placed finishers is likely to be required by the UAE. They come into the final round of pool games with the second-best record among this number, with three points and a goal difference of +2.
“We will have to double our work, effort and focus throughout the game and not rush,” said coach Skorza. “The challenge is still in our hands and we will fight to achieve that.
“The players are well aware of what needs to be done.
“Despite the lack of time to rest and take breath, the technical and administrative staff have been working on the players in all aspects – technical, physical and psychological.”
Al Jazira forward Zayed Al Ameri struck twice in Thursday’s victory. Ittihad Kalba loanee Shaheen Surour and Al Wahda centre-back Salem Sultan also got among the goals.
This result has given the UAE a chance of making the round of 16 that Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club-bound forward Ahmed Al Attas does not intend to pass up.
Best of luck to our national Olympic football team 🇦🇪 in their match tomorrow against China 🇨🇳 at the Asia games 2018 ,, pic.twitter.com/PHtAvOLpvq— UAEFA (@uaefa_ae) August 18, 2018
He said: “All the team have agreed to give everything to achieve the positive result that will ensure we qualify.
“The task will not be easy, especially as China have shown a remarkable level and were able to harvest all six points.
“But the UAE players are able to overcome them because of our solidarity, fighting spirit and good discipline.
“All the players are keen to gain one of the qualifying cards and charge into the round of 16.”
The coming of a ‘Golden Generation’ was heralded by the UAE’s charge to silver in 2010. The nation then made the quarter-finals four years later.
Al Nasr are set to secure their third Brazilian signing of the summer after they reportedly agreed a season’s loan for Corinthians attacking midfielder Marquinhos Gabriel.
The Blue Wave have been busy in recent months modelling a foreign quartet to gain Arabian Gulf League glory. In addition to the eye-catching capture of France and Crystal Palace midfielder Yohan Cabaye, they’ve also procured forward Samuel Rosa from relegated Hatta and striker Iury from Ukraine’s Zorya Luhansk.
ESPN Brasil have reported that 28-year-old Gabriel will soon be added to this list. A temporary switch, with a $4 million permanent option, has been agreed and the attacker has been granted permission to travel to Dubai for a medical.
This will be his second experience in the Middle East after a mixed spell at Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr from 2014-16. In 2018, Gabriel has scored once in 21 matches for his current employers.
Last term’s fourth-placed finishers in the UAE have also made significant domestic moves.
UAE internationals Habib Fardan – who represented the Blue Wave with distinction from 2008-14 – and Mohammed Marzooq have arrived from Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club.
Further deals have been agreed for Al Jazira centre-back Mohammed Ali Ayed, Emirates Club midfielder Al Hussain Saleh and promising Al Wahda forward Mohamed Al Akbari.
Meanwhile, promoted Ittihad Kalba have gambled on the fitness of Nigeria’s box-to-box midfielder Raheem Lawal to complete their non-Emirati contingent.
Lawal, 28, suffered regular fitness problems when Osmanlispor were relegated from Turkey’s Super Lig in 2017/18.
Rijeka midfielder Florentin Matei, Tigres UANL anchorman Alan Santos and Puskas Academia striker Antonio Perosevic have all been previously drafted in by the yo-yo outfit.
The brilliant Brazilian has shone during four Arabian Gulf League campaigns with the Cheetahs – he was named the league’s best foreign player two seasons ago and was again on the three-man shortlist this year, only to be beaten by Al Wahda hitman Sebastian Tagliabue.
Speculation over the player’s future has been constant in the last 12 months, with both domestic and foreign rivals keen to prise the playmaker away from Zabeel Stadium – with De Lima linked with a Dh75-100m (£16-21m) move away.
Saudi Arabia duo Al Hilal and Al Nassr both retain a keen interest in De Lima, with reports in the Arabic press this week suggesting Wasl had agreed a deal to sell their star man to Nassr.
But the club denied reports as pure rumour, with De Lima having signed a contract extension last December that runs until 2022.
“Al Wasl confirms the incorrect news reported in the media and social networking on the club ‘s approval of the transfer of Fabio Lima, and that the player will remain with the team,” they said in a statement on Twitter.
تؤكد شركة #الوصل عدم صحة الأنباء التي ترددت في وسائل الإعلام والتواصل الاجتماعي بشأن موافقة النادي على انتقال فابيو ليما، وأن اللاعب باق مع الفريق ولا نية على الإطلاق للاستغناء عن خدماته لأي فريق محلي أو أجنبي كونه أحد ركائز الفريق الأساسية، وأن عقده ممتد مع النادي حتى عام 2022 pic.twitter.com/oIiZ4gJYGs— Al Wasl SC (@AlWaslSC) 16 August 2018
“The club have no intention whatsoever to dispense with his services for any local or foreign team, being one of the pillars of the core team, and his contract extended with the club until 2022.
“We call upon everyone to investigate the accuracy and truthfulness with published data or news related to the club and its staff in this important period.
“The company emphasises that the only body authorised to talk about the club and the news is the official spokesman or media club office or chairman of the board only.”
As it stands, Wasl will have an even stronger South American flavour to their foreign ranks this season, with De Lima’s namesake Vinicius Morreira de Lima joining earlier this summer on a season-long loan from Gremio.
The 22-year-old, who also had loan spells with Mallorca and Ceara, will fit in alongside retained Brazilians Caio Canedo, Ronaldo Mendes and De Lima, replacing Australian loanee Anthony Caceres.
Lima is new Wasl coach Gustavo Quinteros’ first signing since replacing fellow Argentine Rodolfo Arruabarrena.
De Lima could miss the beginning of the new season after undergoing minor knee surgery several weeks ago.