The UAE’s troublesome preparations for hosting January 2019’s Asian Cup have continued after a goalless draw with Bolivia made it one win from their last nine matches.
This, continued, unpropitious run of form should deeply concern coach Alberto Zaccheroni and his UAE Football Association paymasters. It was not all negatives, however, on Friday at Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium.
Here are the talking points:
WHAT THEY’D GIVE FOR A GOAL
In little more than a year under Zaccheroni’s care, the Whites have rarely been a good watch.
In Dubai this weekend though, there was an ebullience and physicality apparent that has been, often, glaringly absent. A tournament-ending injury to 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman is a cruel blow, yet this month’s unavailability of playmakers Khalfan Mubarak and Rayan Yaslam allowed for an injection of raw pace.
In the middle of the 4-3-3 formation, Al Ain’s Amer Abdulrahman (more on him later) rocked the crossbar with a thunderous volley and Al Wasl’s Khamis Esmail embarrassingly miscued with the goal at his mercy. On the flanks, Shabab Al Ahi’s Ismail Al Hammadi and Sharjah’s Saif Rashid provided an injection of energy.
It is now incumbent on striker Ali Mabkhout – who went closest with a second-half header – to replicate his unflinching club form. It’s now just two goals in his last seven international run-outs – both coming in September’s rout of minnows Laos.
WHERE IS THE CROWD?
A friendly with Bolivia, officially South America’s worst team in World Cup 2018 qualifying, would always struggle to get the pulse racing.
But this cannot fully excuse or explain thousands of empty seats this weekend.
A return of eight goals in Zaccheroni’s 16 matches doesn’t help. Neither does Amoory’s injury.
Both Emiratis and expatriates are needed to buy into next year’s event. Organisers should be concerned ahead of January 5’s big kick-off versus Bahrain.
This was far from a perfect display by the UAE.
Dealing with the high ball remained an issue and Bolivia substitute Jhasmani Campos struck the base of the post at the death.
But the performance of Amer Abdulrahman was a real plus. In the first half alone, he hit the woodwork and cleared off his own line.
This was a demonstration of grasping responsibility freed up by Omar Abdulrahman’s – no relation – absence.
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.