UAE boss Alberto Zaccheroni has kept the faith and declared “things will get better” even though a 2-0 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago made it eight months since his last taste of victory.
Catalonia’s Estadio Municipal de Montilivi on Thursday witnessed the returns of 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman and 2015 Asian Cup top scorer Ali Mabkhout to the Whites line-up for the first time since January’s tumultuous Gulf Cup final loss to Oman.
But the star duo could not prevent goals in either half from Ataulla Guerra and Nathan Lewis inflicting a fifth reversal in 12 maudlin matches upon the worried 2019 Asian Cup hosts.
“We have received two cross-ball goals,” Zaccheroni told Dubai Sports. “In the coming days, we will work to correct those mistakes.
“All the players have figured out how to play. What we lacked was a pass into the front trio, but I cannot ask for more from the players.
“We are at the beginning of a season, and this is normal. Over time, things will get better.”
Kicking off in Zaccheroni’s trademark 3-4-1-2 formation, the Whites lacked fluidity and only meekly threatened through Al Wasl defensive midfielder Khamis Esmail’s hopeful shot.
The breakthrough in Spain came on 37 minutes when Charleston Battery midfielder Guerra converted from close range. This lead was doubled just before the hour mark when Indy Eleven winger Lewis ghosted in unmarked at the back post.
The UAE next meet minnows Laos – ranked 178th by FIFA, 101 places below them – on Tuesday (22:00 UAE).
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Discord within the UAE squad and panic by the UAE Football Association about embarrassment on home soil at next year’s Asian Cup are growing after a 2-0 defeat to undercooked Trinidad and Tobago made it five internationals without victory for coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
Goals in either half from Ataulla Guerra and Nathan Lewis at a deserted Estadio Municipal de Montilivi saw the Soca Warriors cruise to victory. This was despite the fact they last played in April, plus were unable to train in Catalonia until Wednesday because of an unforeseen lack of access to facilities.
With less than 120 days to go until the continental kick-off against Bahrain on January 5 at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City, the Whites are in a sorry state. Thursday’s setback followed on from last month’s appalling goalless draw against minnows Andorra, results that mean just four goals have been scored in the 12 matches overseen by Zaccheroni since his October 2017 appointment.
Legendary former Al Jazira tactician Henk ten Cate heads a list of potential successors should the desire for change catalyse after Tuesday’s run-out against lowly Laos.
“The players have made it known that they are not happy about the way things are going under Zaccheroni,” a source close to the squad said.
“Now, the UAE FA are losing patience and are worried about being embarrassed on home soil.
“Henk ten Cate was very successful at Al Jazira and has an excellent relationship with the players. He would be a strong option to lead the nation at the Asian Cup.”
Peru’s Ricardo Gareca and ex-Honduras boss Jorge Luis Pinto were among those considered before last year’s ill-judged hirings of Edgardo Bauza and Zaccheroni.
But with time running out, Ten Cate’s candidature holds special value.
He boasts current knowledge of the playing pool, plus strong relationships with the likes of Jazira hot shot Ali Mabkhout after he lifted the 2016 President’s Cup and 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium from December 2015-May 2018.
Rising UAE Under-23 talents such as Zayed Al Ameri, Mohamed Al Attas and Ahmed Al Attas were among the youngsters to gain valuable minutes during his tenure.
He previously turned down the Netherlands job in April 2017.
Zaccheroni’s record in charge now reads four wins, three draws and five defeats. His last victory came on January 2 against Iraq in the Gulf Cup semi-finals.
The ex-AC Milan, Juventus and Japan tactician has been tasked with making the Asian Cup final.
Summer buy Ernest Asante’s impressive start continued as he inspired Al Jazira’s 5-2 thrashing of Fujairah in the Arabian Gulf Cup.
Asante, 29, lobbed home the opener and forward Ahmed Rabea made it 5-0 by 57 minutes from his cross. In-between, midfielder Abdalla Ramadan smashed in, Brazilian winger Leonardo struck a perfect free-kick and full-back Salim Rashid literally broke the net with a rasping drive.
In response, Wolves skipper Omar Kissoko struck a powerful effort and teed up midfielder Ahmad Murad.
Elsewhere in Group B’s first round, Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ain saw Brazilian forward Caio score twice and assist another in a 4-1 win at Sharjah.
Caio made it 2-0 by 35 minutes thanks to a penalty-kick and low shot. His later cross then set-up Japan utility man Tsukasa Shiotani.
Playmaker Igor Coronado’s tapped in to make it 3-1 on 79 minutes, before ex-Sharjah forward Jamal Maroof forcefully struck.
Brazilian winger Marcos Gabriel’s volley earned a 1-0 win for 10-man Al Nasr – defender Hamad Hasan was sent off – versus Emirates Club.