The UAE expected to be welcoming Mohamed Salah and Egypt on Tuesday.
Instead, they face the far-less familiar threat of Yemen when the penultimate training camp winds down before hosting duties began at January 2019’s Asian Cup.
Here are the talking points ahead of the friendly clash at Al Wasl’s Zabeel Stadium:
BOLIVIA WASN’T BORING
A cursory look at Thursday’s goalless stalemate with Bolivia makes sorry reading.
This is not entirely fair. The 4-3-3 formation came alive thanks to the usage of wingers Saif Rashid and Ismail Al Hammadi, while centre midfielder Amer Abdulrahman rocked the crossbar with a volley plus cleared a header off his own line.
Al Nasr forward Mohamed Al Akbari also excelled off the bench in his first senior international since March.
Plenty of attacking endeavour was shown. This has not always been the case during miserable matches, such as August’s 0-0 draw with Andorra and September’s 2-0 loss to undercooked Trinidad and Tobago.
Progress. Of a kind.
YEMEN ARE NO PUSHOVERS
Tuesday night was originally planned to be an entirely different affair.
A gala event at refurbished Al Nahyan Stadium must now wait until March. The subsequent scramble to rope in Yemen at the last minute means the Whites are facing opponents ranked 131st by FIFA, rather than 58th.
This should not, however, be taken as being guarantor of a walkover.
The Yemenis are preparing for their first-ever Asian Cup. Friday’s first match since their berth was secured in March was a creditable 1-0 loss against a strong Saudi Arabia.
STAT’S NOT EASY
And still, the numbers make sorry reading for coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
His UAE record reads: five wins, six defeats, five draws, eight scored, nine conceded.
In the long-term absence of inspirational playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, goals must be conjured from somewhere – and fast.
Midfielder Habib Fardan’s return to Al Nasr is up and running after his second-half double ensured a 4-1 victory against Al Dhafra in the Arabian Gulf Cup.
Fardan, 28, has barely featured for the Blue Wave since his protracted return from Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club – after four years away – was finally completed last month. But the former UAE regular showcased his class on Sunday night as the qualified Group B-pacesetters continued their 100-per-cent record.
Forward Mohamed Ibrahim got the ball rolling on five minutes with a powerful effort from distance, before visiting midfielder Diogo soon levelled up from Khalid Butti’s cross.
Brazilian forward Samuel Rosa’s deflected shot then restored Nasr’s advantage on 18 minutes.
Just before the hour mark, Fardan converted a penalty for his first goal in blue for more than 1,050 days. A slotted late finish then completed the rout.
In the pool’s other games, a goalless draw meant nothing to qualified Al Ain but tempered Emirates Club’s quarter-final ambitions.
French midfielder Omar Kossoko’s 89th-minute long-range rocket earned a valuable 3-2 win for Fujairah and kept Arabian Gulf League-leaders Sharjah pointless in the Cup.
Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic is happy he can keep looking to the future when his qualified side’s group-stage commitments in the Arabian Gulf Cup wind up against Emirates Club.
In the absence of a sizeable international cohort, the Boss have selected promising youngsters such as centre-back Saeed Juma and forward Mohd Khalfan throughout a successful Group B-campaign. But underutilised players such as Egypt-born midfielder Mohamed Fathy should now get a fresh chance to impress, against opponents who must win to stand a realistic chance of progression to the quarter-finals.
“Since the competition’s start, our goal was to provide a decent performance,” said Mamic.
“We will definitely now choose a number of players who’ve not had a chance to participate in the Arabian Gulf Cup. This will help them show their potential.”
Meanwhile, Al Wahda completed a near-perfect Group A-campaign as they beat Al-Ittihad Kalba 2-0. The Clarets finished as comfortable group winners having gone unbeaten without conceding a single goal in their six matches.
Caio’s brace led Al Wasl to a convincing 4-2 victory over Dibba, taking them to fourth place with seven points.
Al Ahli on the other hand climbed to second spot in Group A courtesy of match-winner Henrique Luvannor who struck twice in a 2-1 win over now third-placed Baniyas.