Time is at a premium now for UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni after his penultimate training camp before January 2019’s Asian Cup began in Dubai on Tuesday.
A 28-man squad was selected by the tournament hosts for the get together at Nad Al Sheba, that also contains November 16’s friendly with Bolivia and November 20’s gala meeting with Egypt.
Here are the talking points:
IT’S ALL ON MABKHOUT
Just one man is left standing from the UAE’s ‘Big Three’.
Tears flowed last month when knee ligaments were torn by superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman. He’ll be lucky to kick a ball again in 2018/19, never mind the Asian Cup.
Persistent fitness problems at Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club have seriously impinged World Cup 2018 qualifying’s global joint-top scorer, Ahmed Khalil.
Al Jazira hot shot Ali Mabkhout is the only talisman present. With nine goals in eight Arabian Gulf League games, he’s in decent form.
المهندس مروان بن غليطة رئيس اتحاد الكرة وعبدالله ناصر الجنيبي رئيس لجنة دوري المحترفين وهشام الزرعوني عضو مجلس الإدارة ومحمد بن هزام الظاهري الأمين العام لاتحاد الكرة والدكتور حسن سهيل عضو لجنة المنتخبات الوطنية يشهدون تدريبات منتخبنا الوطني في ملعب ند الشبا ..#منتخب_الإمارات pic.twitter.com/I6D2AEShSK— UAE NT (@uaent2019) November 6, 2018
CASE FOR THE DEFENCE
The UAE’s travails in attack are well known – since Zaccheroni arrived in October 2017, only eight goals have been scored during 15 matches.
At the other end of the pitch, things also aren’t looking rosy.
In seven matches since last winter’s Gulf Cup, clean sheets were only kept against minnows Laos and Andorra.
Veteran Ismail Ahmed is creaking and youngster Khalifa Mubarak requires work. A recall for versatile Shabab Al Ahli defender Walid Abbas offers a potential cure.
MAKING THE BIG STEP
A youthful edge is present in Zaccheroni’s roster.
Al Nasr forward Mohamed Al Akbari is back in favour, while Jazira’s Khalfan Mubarak must pull the strings in Amoory’s – lengthy – absence. Pride of Abu Dhabi forward Ahmed Rabea and Al Dhafra loanee Saeed Jassem also get fresh chances.
Continued reward for a 2018 Asian Games bronze has come for skipper Ahmed Rashid, goalkeeper Mohamed Al Shamsi, Sharjah midfielder Majid Surour and Jazira prospect Zayed Al Ameri.
Of this sprightly cohort, however, only seven 2018/19 top-flight goals have been scored. Mubarak accounts for four of them.
Round nine of the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League delivered several stellar displays, at both ends of the table.
Here are Sport360’s top picks:
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Ismail Al Hammadi (Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club)
The UAE winger rode a rollercoaster in Monday’s 2-1 victory at Emirates Club.
Shabab Al Ahli appeared to be cruising towards a half-time lead, before the ball was hammered against Al Hammadi’s hand and Cheick Diabate levelled from the spot.
Amends was made ASAP with a cute slide-rule pass which put the prolific Jaime Ayovi in to win it.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
Saif Rashid (Sharjah)
Rashid took things into his own hands in an ultimately frustrating 2-2 draw for the league against yo-yo side Ittihad Kalba.
Little seemed on when the bustling right winger forced a defensive blunder near the halfway line.
Fast forward less than 10 seconds later and he’d punished back-tracking Kalba with a fine slow shot.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Marcel Keizer (Al Jazira)
A swift return to Europe with Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon appears just a matter of time for Keizer.
If the ex-Ajax coach is to leave Abu Dhabi after just five months, he goes with his head held high.
Rampant speculation was ignored to ensure his unbeaten troops defeated Al Wasl 2-0. Keizer is going to be missed.
What’s going wrong at Wahda?
More points have slipped away for Laurentiu Reghecampf’s Al Wahda.
The 3-3 draw at promoted Fujairah made for frantic viewing. Wahda went 1-0 down, breezed to a 3-1 lead, then conceded twice in seven minutes and were saved from defeat by the woodwork in injury time.
Victory was last tasted by expected title contenders four matches ago. Alarmingly, these games have seen 11 goals conceded.
But fitness and concentration are also lacking. The last three fixtures have witnessed damaging goals conceded past 80 minutes.
Answers must be found in the international break.
Al Jazira held on to second place in the Arabian Gulf League as they beat Al Wasl 2-0 in a comfortable victory at Mohammad bin Zayed Stadium on Monday.
After a scoreless first half, the hosts opened the scoring four minutes into the second when Khalfan Mubarak combined with Ali Mabkhout to make it 1-0.
Mabkhout then got in on the act as he nodded home from a corner in the 63rd minute.
Elsewhere, Ajman recovered from going a goal down to secure a 2-1 win at home to ten-man Dibba.
Ahmed Khameis was sent off for the visitors in the 35th minute. However, Dibba broke the deadlock deep into first-half stoppage time through Juma Masud.
Six minutes into the second period, Ajman restored parity through Stanley Nka while Ahmed Hermach completed the comeback two minutes later.
Shabab Al Ahli bagged a 2-1 win over Emirates Club on home turf.
Mohammed Marzooq Abdulla’s header put the hosts into the lead in the 12th minute but Cheick Diabate converted from the spot for the away side just before the break.
Three minutes after the restart, Al Ahli regained their lead through Jaime Ayovi who kept his composure in a one-on-one with the keeper for his sixth goal of the season.
Fujairah held Al Wahda to a draw in a 3-3 thriller with Mohamed Khalfan bagging a second half brace.
Hilal Saeed put the home side ahead in the 15th minute before Sebastian Tagliabue struck 11 minutes later to restore parity. Tariq Ahmed then gave the visitors the lead moments before half-time.
Tagliabue scored again 13 minutes into the second half but Khalfan’s goals in the 77th and 84th minutes meant the spoils were shared.