Alberto Zaccheroni must still prove he’s the coach to lead 2019 Asian Cup hosts into January’s main event after a mixed international break for the UAE.
Here are the talking points after a 2-0 reversal to Trinidad and Tobago, plus a 3-0 win versus lowly Laos.
ZACCH’S BACK IN GOOD BOOKS?
An eventful international break has ended for Zaccheroni – and the beleaguered UAE boss finally has some breathing space.
Last month’s embarrassing goalless draw against Andorra necessitated an instant retort. Thursday’s opening friendly instead saw an alarming loss to Trinidad and Tobago, who had not played since April and could only train 24 hours before the friendly in Catalonia after alleged promises from a match agent fell through.
A fifth-successive winless match sparked a public vote of confidence from the UAE Football Association as rumours swirled of the Italian’s imminent demise.
Never has a meeting with minnows Laos – ranked 178th by FIFA, 101 places below the Whites – meant so much. To Zaccheroni’s relief, positives were mined on Tuesday from what would usually be considered a ‘lose-lose situation’.
The reintegration of 2015 Asian Cup top scorer Ali Mabkhout (2) and 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman after January’s Gulf Cup shenanigans accelerated with their goals. A change of formation from his trademark 3-4-1-2 formation to a familiar 4-2-3-1 also brought much-needed fluidity.
These shoots of recovery must now blossom in next month’s exacting meetings with Honduras and Venezuela (October 11 and 16 in Barcelona).
BUT FOR HOW LONG?
It will take true conviction for the UAE FA to stand by their man if the imminent friendlies go wrong.
Former AC Milan, Juventus and Japan tactician Zaccheroni has been around the game long enough to know a win against Laos can only offer temporary respite.
He deserves praise, of a kind, for the belated change of tactics versus the minnows.
But asking these players to perform defensively was always dogmatic lunacy – from both Zaccheroni and the bureaucrats who picked him.
Emerging Al Ain playmaker Rayan Yaslam and centre midfielder Amer Abdulrahman added a creative edge versus Laos that has been absent for much of 2018. Playing twin defensive midfielders in Khamis Esmail and Majed Hassan just doesn’t work.
Dropping the increasingly error prone Mohanad Salem was also an adroit move. Boss club-mate Ismail Ahmed remains the evergreen part of a centre-back duo whose combined age is 68.
Change has come. With less than 120 days to January 5’s continental opener on home soil, however, consistency of selection should have already occurred.
The desire to get free hits against Andorra and Trinidad backfired. It is also illogical to draw tangible conclusions from cannon fodder like Laos.
The clock continues to tick.
AMOORY’S FITNESS TEST
Omar Abdulrahman returns to Saudi Arabia with a goal under his belt – and a special one, at that.
The new Al Hilal superstar fired in a 25-yard rocket against Laos to end an international drought that stretches back to March 2016. After his disappearing act against Trinidad, and he was not the only one culpable in white, this was a timely reminder of enduring class.
After a summer of distractions about his long-winded defection from Al Ain, now comes the real work.
The Middle East’s playmaker extraordinaire must get up to speed at the Saudi Professional League champions after two club games in which only flashes of the usual genius were exhibited after a summer full of distraction.
Amoory’s country needs him – more than ever.
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