The UAE’s problematic preparations for hosting January 2019’s Asian Cup have continued after tournament debutants Yemen were announced on Wednesday as friendly replacements for heavyweights Egypt.
Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah and his fellow World Cup 2018 qualifiers were expected to run-out at Al Wahda’s refurbished Al Nahyan Stadium on Tuesday. This fixture would have represented a gala event, plus an important yardstick on the way to the continental tournament.
But a contentious decision by the Egyptian Football Association – without prior notification – late on Saturday evening to unilaterally postpone the fixture until March left their Emirati counterparts furious and scrambling for alternative opposition.
Jan Kocian’s Yemen, ranked 73 places lower than Egypt at 131st by FIFA, will now face the Whites at Al Wasl’s Zabeel Stadium on November 20. This Friday’s run-out against Bolivia at Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium remains unaffected.
The glaring disparity between Yemen and Egypt has further hampered troubled attempts by coach Alberto Zaccheroni to get his troops up to speed for when they kick-off the enlarged 24-team tournament on January 5 against Bahrain.
The ex-AC Milan, Juventus and Japan tactician had already witnessed a tournament-ending injury to Al Hilal’s superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman and a run of one win in his last eight matches – against tiny Laos in September.
A repeat of 1996’s run to the final, when the Emirates last put on the event, was demanded by the UAE FA in October 2017 when they hired him.
Imminent opponents Bolivia – ranked 48th, 34 spots higher than the UAE – landed at Dubai Airport on Tuesday night. They will meet an outfit ravaged by injury.
2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil was not selected because of recurring fitness problems. In defence, veteran Ismail Ahmed dropped out after the 28-man squad was announced.
Further withdrawals by Al Jazira’s Khalfan Mubarak and Al Ain’s Rayan Yaslam have hampered attempts to procure a creative replacement for the celebrated ‘Amoory’.
Al Wahda’s malaise showed no signs of lifting on Tuesday when they extended their winless streak to five matches with a goalless draw against neighbours Bani Yas in the Arabian Gulf Cup.
Clarets boss Laurentiu Reghecampf held a fans’ forum at the weekend to discuss his hotly tipped side’s recent struggles. This talk, however, seemed to have little impact as a 100-per-cent record in Group A ended.
Tanzanian forward Yahya Al Ghassani came up short with efforts in both halves for the qualified visitors to Bani Yas Stadium.
Meanwhile, Al Dhafra remain in the mix for a quarter-final berth from Group B after Diego struck the only goal against pointless Sharjah.
The reigning Ligue 2 Player of the Year’s 34th-minute header earned a valuable 1-0 triumph on home soil.
Coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena suffered the first defeat of his Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club reign thanks to a first-half penalty from Dibba Al Fujairah’s Yahya Jabrane.
The Moroccan defensive midfielder got up after he was felled and calmly found the bottom corner, for the Group A clash’s only goal.
Al Wahda coach Laurentiu Reghecampf is confident the weekend’s public forum with fans will halt his side’s slide when they meet Bani Yas in the Arabian Gulf Cup.
The Clarets head into the international break after a four-match winless run in the Arabian Gulf League. Disquiet at this damaging spell from last term’s runners-up saw a meeting held with angered supporters to hear their grievances and discuss solutions moving forward.
The impact of this event could be witnessed on Tuesday when they will look to extend a perfect start in Group A.
“I am happy with the meeting held between the club’s management and the fans,” said Reghecampf.
“This meeting is very positive. It is important to support the public, even with some criticism from them about results.
“They have the right. We had three games and did not win. So I am happy that we met with our fans and talked. We are a proud club with this audience next to us.”
Meanwhile in Monday night’s action, Al Nasr and Al Ain both recorded wins to book their spots in the quarter-finals of the competition.
Marquinhos Gabriel teed up Masoud Sulaiman to open the scoring for the Blue Wave against Al Jazira, who then went 2-0 up three minutes into the second half in Abu Dhabi when Marquinhos’ composed finish doubled his side’s lead.
Sulaiman then went from hero to villain as he felled Leonardo in the box, the winger making no mistake from the spot, although the hosts were unable to find an equaliser.
Brazilian winger Caio scored twice and grabbed an assist as the Boss beat Fujairah 3-1 to also move into the last eight.
Caio’s first half penalty was followed by setting up Jamal Maroof on the hour, with the winger then grabbing his second after 77 minutes to seal the win. Ahmed Murad grabbed a late consolation for the Wolves.
In the night’s other game, Fabio De Lima scored late as Al Wasl earned a 1-0 win over Ajman to keep alive their hopes of making the knockouts. The Cheetahs moved into the fourth automatic place with victory.