Fallen superstar Omar Abdulrahman’s timely return, the probable end of veteran forward Ismail Matar’s stellar UAE career and a welcome defensive shake-up headlined the 27-man training squad selected by coach Bert van Marwijk ahead of next month’s opening World Cup 2022 qualifier.
The Whites’ second-round commitments are scheduled to begin at Malaysia’s 87,411-capacity Bukit Jalil National Stadium on September 10. Essential fine-tuning in Bahrain from August 25-September 1 – featuring debut friendlies under the Dutchman against Sri Lanka (August 30) and Dominican Republic (August 31) – will precede the competitive action.
Here’s a review of the major issues sparked by the ex-Netherlands boss’ selection:
A BRIGHTER FUTURE?
Van Marwijk, as befitting a World Cup 2010 finalist, has been predictably bold since his March hiring.
Al Wasl’s teenage forward Ali Saleh, 19 and colt Sharjah midfielder Majed Suroor, 21, are among those to be rewarded after they impressed during last month’s first get-together in Austria.
The vivid reshaping of a diminished ‘Golden Generation’ that flunked World Cup 2018 qualification and crept into January 2019’s Asian Cup semi-finals is most stark in defence. Al Wahda centre-back Hamdan Al Kamali, 30, has been surprisingly reinstated more than two years since the last of 35 caps; he provides welcome experience alongside promising Al Jazira youngsters Mohamed Al Attas, 22, and 20-year-old Khalifa Al Hammadi.
In midfield, a changing of the guard continues.
Mahdi Ali-acolytes Khamis Esmail, Majed Hassan, Amer Abdulrahman and Mohamed Abdulrahman are conspicuously absent.
It is only in attack where familiarity reigns.
UAE National Team Lineup for Bahrain's Camp from 25th Aug - 1st Sep in preperations for the match against Malaysia on 10th Sep in Kuala-Lumpur under the Joint Qualifications of 2022 World Cup and Asia 2023#UAE_NT pic.twitter.com/qZUrG8DXh7— UAE NT (@uaent2019) August 21, 2019
Circumstance conspired in Salzburg to deny Van Marwijk essential time with Asian Cup 2015 top scorer Ali Mabkhout and 2016 AFC Player of the Year Amoory.
There will be no birth to attend for Mabkhout and distractions about Amoory’s future at Al Hilal were ended by a surprise switch to join the former at Jazira.
Getting the best out of this pair is pivotal to UAE hopes of earning a second-ever World Cup finals berth. It is something bemoaned predecessor Alberto Zaccheroni singularly failed to do.
END OF AN ERA
A final word must go to Matar.
Not even brilliance in defeat this month against Saudi Professional League holders Al Nassr during the 2019 AFC Champions League’s knockouts could sustain his place.
The 131-cap veteran forward has created eternal memories in White. He will, seemingly, at 36-years old not be making any more.
Al Ain‘s new forward Caio Canedo admits it hasn’t been hard settling in to his new surroundings at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium – after all he’s played there enough times over the last five years.
The diminutive Brazilian swapped the Cheetahs for the Boss this summer – leaving Al Wasl but not the Arabian Gulf League as he signed for Al Ain in a lucrative €5.3 million deal.
It was a real coup for the Boss, who struggled to a fourth-placed finish last year, capitulating in 2019 after peaking with an appearance in the FIFA Club World Cup final in December, where they lost 4-1 to European heavyweights Real Madrid.
But Canedo, 29, heads an impressive summer recruitment drive in the Garden City. The Rio de Janeiro native has been joined by Algerian winger Abderrahmane Meziane, Togo forward Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba and Emirati midfielders Mohamed Jamal and Mohammed Helal.
And Canedo admits he already feels part of the family. “I have a sincere sense of being at home,” said the Brazilian, who speaks perfect English with an American accent having grown up in Massachusetts.
“I spent five years in the country with Al Wasl and experienced a large number of foreigners.
“By my nature, I like to make friends with players and prepare myself socially and I have never had any difficulty in coping quickly with getting to know my team-mates, especially since I am fluent in English, which helps the foreign players a lot in coexisting.
“With the other new arrivals I have begun to learn about the style of each player and the way he plays.”
Caio has proven both a prolific scorer and creator of goals during his five years with the Cheetahs. After arriving in Dubai, on loan initially from Internacional in his homeland in 2014/15, he has rocketed in 66 goals in just 113 AGL games.
He formed a deadly duo with compatriot Fabio De Lima in that time, although their connection failed to yield any silverware. An AGL runners-up spot was achieved in 2016/17, with the same fate befalling them in the 2018 President’s Cup. Wasl’s first appearances in the AFC Champions League in a decade, meanwhile, ended in timid group stage exits both this and last year.
Few foreign players stay at one club in the Middle East as long as Caio. So fewer still will begrudge his decision to move on. And he is determined to catch up on lost time by lifting silverware with his new club.
“We are very proud of being a great club and I will work to achieve goals and we will fight together to win titles,” added Caio, who joined Internacional in 2013 following Taison’s move to Shakhtar Donetsk.
Speaking about his new Croatian coach, Ivan Leko, he added: “I admire his thinking, his style and his way of dealing with everyone, which motivates us to implement his plans accurately.
“I think the pre-season camp has been excellent. It is an important period to strengthen the relationship between team-mates.”
Al Jazira have completed the signing of Serbian defender Milos Kosanovic from Belgian Club Standard Liege.
The 29-year-old has signed a two-year contract and will join up with his new team-mates in Abu Dhabi ahead of the start of the 2019-20 season.
Kosanovic arrives at Al Jazira with plenty of experience in the Polish and Belgian leagues, and in his native Serbia. The versatile defender made his professional debut for Mladost Apatin in Serbia before moving to Cracovia Krakow in Poland. He later switched to Belgian giants Standard Liege, featuring 22 times before moving to Goztepe on loan.
His talent has seen him represent Serbia U-21 level as well as the senior national team squad.
With the acquisition of Kosanovic, it’s been a remarkable couple of weeks for Al Jazira who have strengthened their squad this summer with six new signings.
Experienced midfielder Sultan Al Ghaferi, Moroccan attacking forward Mourad Batna, UAE national team stars Omar Abdulrahman and Amer Abdulrahman as well as Brazilian forward Keno have all arrived at The Pride of Abu Dhabi and the signings have stirred yet more excitement amongst fans ahead of the start of the new season.
Ayed Mabkhout Al Hajeri, CEO and board member of Al Jazira Football Company said: “Our vision is to always strive in being successful and to make sure that Al Jazira is a leading sporting club in the UAE and across the region. The signing of Kosanovic is part of our ambitious football project and he will certainly strengthen the first-team squad as we compete in the local and regional competitions for the new upcoming season.”
Kosanovic said he is thrilled to have joined Al Jazira. He said: “I am really excited to start my new journey with Al Jazira Club and to play in the UAE.
“Al Jazira has a rich history and has a strong reputation in Europe with former Juventus star Mirko Vucinic among the super stars to have played for them. The club has also been coached by amazing managers including Jurgen Streppel, who is an excellent coach and has great knowledge of the game.”
He added: “I am proud that Al Jazira has chosen me to be part of their ambitious and wonderful football project. I pledge to the management, the fans and my new team that I will use all my skills and expertise to help the club be successful and compete strongly in all competitions next season.”