An insight has been given into new boss Ivan Jovanovic’s plans to revitalise the UAE after he named his first 25-man squad for this month’s training camp.
The two-time ex-Al Nasr tactician became the surprise pick of the UAE Football Association late last month to replace Bert van Marwijk. He takes over a bedraggled nation that was dumped out of the Gulf Cup at the group stage and has lost its last two World Cup 2022 qualifiers.
An opening meet up is scheduled for January 4-6 at the governing body’s Theyab Awana Stadium in Al Khawaneej. Vital 2020 AFC U-23 Championship preparations and mid-season injuries has denied the 57-year-old some key names, but several intriguing facets were present in this inaugural selection…
CAN THE ‘BIG THREE’ STILL CUT IT?
Predecessors Van Marwijk, Alberto Zaccheroni and Edgardo Bauza will already be envious of Jovanovic’s fortune.
Serious issues with fitness witnessed the aforementioned trio struggle to spend any time with 2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil and 2016 winner Omar Abdulrahman. But their fortunate Serbian successor can already see them reunited with 2019’s leading global marksman in international football, Ali Mabkhout.
There are also signs of the green shoots of recovery. Amoory – fresh from getting married in Saudi Arabia – has created the second-most chances this term in the Arabian Gulf League (29 from 11 run-outs) and his latent partnership with Mabkhout burst back into life with a goal and an assist in December 20’s 4-0 humbling of Al Wasl by new employers Al Jazira.
Forward Khalil has silenced the Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club agitators with six goals from his last five matches, in all competitions.
Forget, for now, that Amoory missed the Gulf Cup in mysterious circumstance and it is nearly a year since Khalil’s last of 48 UAE strikes. Their training comebacks – no fixture has been scheduled – are noteworthy positives headed into March’s must-win competitive double header versus Malaysia and Indonesia.
‘GOLDEN GENERATION’ RIDES AGAIN
Hands up if you ever thought Al Ain warrior Mohanad Salem would ever indefatigably don the UAE jersey once again?
Well, Jovanovic is in this exclusive group. The now 34-year-old centre-back’s distinguished UAE career appeared over even before January 2019’s Asian Cup, yet he joins recalled club-mate Mohamed Abdulrahman back in the ranks.
Full-backs Abdulaziz Haikal, of Shabab Al Ahli, and Mohammed Fawzi, of Jazira, extend this resurrection of the ‘Golden Generation’.
Even Wasl attacking midfielder Haboush Saleh, 30, is back in the fold for the first time since 2016.
An obvious retort to this burst of nostalgia is the fact that eight members of the preliminary 27-man squad chosen for the Gulf Cup are, instead, preparing an assault on Olympic qualification. There are also notable injuries to Al Wasl midfielder Ali Salmeen, Sharjah skipper Shahin Abdulrahman, Jazira playmaker Khalfan Mubarak and Al Wahda defender Hamdan Al Kamali that have opened up further berths.
But these, now-veteran, figures must take encouragement from the fact that Jovanovic is attentive to their enduring ability. This about-turn from the youth-first policy of Van Marwijk may yet be applied to March’s big qualifiers.
It is more alarming, however, for those who have still be ignored. These include Sharjah utility defender Abdullah Ghanem, Jazira left-back Salem Rashid and out-of-sorts Shabab Al Ahli winger Ismail Al Hamadi.
BAWAZIR’S BIG MOMENT
Al Dhafra goalkeeper Khalid Al Senani will wonder what more he could do, with a leading 47 saves still not being enough to feature.
Club-mate Khalid Bawazir, though, must be feeling far-more positive.
The recalled 25-year-old is back in the set-up after more than two years away. He now comes in as the creative heartbeat of a workmanlike Western Knights, who come into match-week 12 of the AGL in an excellent sixth.
The ex-UAE under-23 regular has the third-most assists on five, getting the latest of these from a corner under Jovanovic’s watchful gaze in last week’s 3-1 humbling of, then-undefeated, champions Sharjah.
His is a talent that is maturing at an opportune juncture with Mubarak frustrated by injury and Amoory still short of his best. Shine at the UAE FA’s headquarters in the coming days and March may herald a first cap since August 2016.
Khalid Essa, Mohanad Salem, Mohamed Abdulrahman, Bandar Al Ahbabi (Al Ain); Khalid Bawazir (Al Dhafra); Mohammed Fawzi, Amer Abdulrahman, Ali Mabkhout, Omar Abdulrahman (Al Jazira); Habib Fardan, Ahmed Shambieh, Tariq Ahmed (Al Nasr); Abdulaziz Haikal, Mohammed Marzouq, Walid Abbas, Mohammed Jaber, Abdullah Al Naqbi, Walid Hussein, Ahmed Khalil (Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club); Adel Al Hosani, Al Hasan Saleh, Salem Sultan (Sharjah); Mohammed Al Menhali, Khalil Ibrahim (Al Wahda); Haboush Saleh (Al Wasl)
Know more about Sport360 Application