UAE football fans woke up to more welcome news on Monday when the long-rumoured naturalisation of sensational Al Wasl forward Fabio De Lima became real.
Confirmation that the 26-year-old had received his official documentation was presented by a change of nationality, from Brazilian to Emirati, on the UAE Football Association app. This development has ensured that the 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League Foreign Player of the Year has joined Al Ain forward Caio Canedo, 29, and Al Wahda striker Sebastian Tagliabue, 34, in being granted passports.
How will new UAE boss Ivan Jovanovic cope with the “amazing problem” – as Tagliabue recently told Sport360 – in fitting all these options into an XI that can gain hallowed World Cup 2022 qualification? Here are six scenarios for next month’s competitive double header versus Malaysia and Indonesia:
4-2-3-1 (FOREIGN TRIO)
Al Shamsi; Al Ahbabi, K. Al Hammadi, Abbas, A.H. Saleh; Hassan, Ramadan; De Lima, Canedo, Mabkhout; Tagliabue
Will coach Jovanovic be tempted to go with all his fresh options, straight away? If so, this may spell bad news for one of Asian football’s icons – Omar Abdulrahman.
De Lima is a natural fit on the right flank, a position from which he’s netted 102 times in 130 top-flight matches. With Jovanovic, typically, welded to a 4-2-3-1 formation, 2019’s leading scorers in international football – Ali Mabkhout – could move wide and Tagliabue take the ‘No9’ role.
This leaves a quandary with what to do with Amoory and Canedo…
The former is off-form, while the latter dislikes playing out wide. Either way, playmaker is set to be hotly contested.
Suitability rating: 6/10
4-2-3-1 (MABKHOUT CF)
Al Shamsi; Al Menhali, K. Al Hammadi, Abbas, A.H. Saleh; Hassan, Ramadan; De Lima, Canedo, A. Saleh; Mabkhout
Let’s be honest, it’ll represent the boldest of calls if Jovanovic winds back the clock and shunts Mabkhout onto the flank.
The UAEs 60-goal record scorer is there to stay at centre forward. Intrigue now rests on how everyone else fits around him.
A desire for pace and directness may see Wasl flyer Ali Saleh reclaim his starting spot at left wing. If so, this would represent a Cheetahs reunion between himself, De Lima and Canedo.
Suitability rating: 8/10
4-2-3-1 (STATUS QUO)
Al Shamsi; Al Menhali, K. Al Hammadi, Abbas, A.H. Saleh; Hassan, Ramadan; Al Ahbabi, Abdulrahman, A. Saleh; Mabkhout
Patience may yet prevail.
The introduction of Canedo, Tagliabue and De Lima represents a seismic change in UAE policy. Would Jovanovic be best advised to drip feed his additions into the XI?
This would allow 2019/20 AGL assist king Bandar Al Ahbabi to remain pushed up on the right, while granting Abdulrahman the opportunity to dictate play.
Suitability rating: 5/10
4-3-3 (INVERTED WINGERS)
Al Shamsi; Al Menhali, K. Al Hammadi, Abbas, A.H. Saleh; Hassan, Ramadan, Abdulrahman; De Lima, Mabkhout, Canedo
Who needs width when you can cram lashings of goal threat into your XI?
The previous decade’s vogue for ‘inverted wingers’ would see the left-footed De Lima on the right, right-footed Canedo on the left and lethal Mabkhout through the middle.
Shots would, surely, rain down from a trio who boast a combined AGL goal tally of 311.
Abdulrahman has also previously shown his comfort in a midfield three.
Suitability rating: 7/10
3-5-2 (SOMETHING DIFFERENT)
Al Shamsi; Al Attas, Al Hammadi, Abbas; Al Ahbabi, De Lima, Hassan, Abdulrahman, A.H. Saleh; Mabkhout, Tagliabue
Does the UAE’s struggles in World Cup 2022 qualification necessitate a radical solution?
With the options at hand to Jovanovic, plus a suspect defence, a drastic change of shape may be in order. This would allow Mabkhout and Tagliabue to be twinned together, grant wing-back Al Ahbabi the structure to wreak havoc and push De Lima in-field.
In defence, there is a nice balance offered by Al Jazira youngsters Khalifa Al Hammadi and Mohammed Al Attas teaming up with Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club veteran Walid Abbas.
Nothing in Jovanovic’s career to date hints at such divergent tactics from the Middle Eastern football doctrine. But it could be an avenue worth exploring…
Suitability rating: 4/10
4-4-2 (ALL-OUT ATTACK)
If attack is the best form of defence for the brittle UAE, then 4-4-2 holds the key.
Tagliabue and Mabkhout would fixate the centre-backs. Then a combination of Al Ahbabi, Ali Saleh, Abdulrahman and De Lima would work on both feeding them chances, plus rocketing in attempts of their own.
Even erstwhile anchor man Abdullah Ramadan of Jazira is most comfortable in a box-to-box role.
Just spare a thought for overworked centre-backs Al Hammadi and Abbas, plus Sharjah left-back Al Hassan Saleh.
Suitability rating: 2/10
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