The UAE’s Asian Cup preparations have suffered a blow after captain Ali Khaseif withdrew to attend national service, with Sharjah goalkeeper Mohamed Yousif called up in his place.
Khaseif, 27, was not on board the plane that departed from Dubai for Australia yesterday. He was among a group of players who were initially demanded by the military prior to November’s Gulf Cup title defence, though this was deferred to a later date.
The Al Jazira stalwart has struggled since being substituted bec-ause of injury during the 3-2 victory against Bani Yas on December 5, missing two of the next three matches. His withdrawal robs the team of huge experience, with Khaseif being a veteran of the London 2012 Olympic campaign and the Gulf Cup 2013 success.
News of the late change in coach Mahdi Ali’s 24-man preliminary squad was released by Sharjah’s Twitter account last night.
“The technical staff of the national football team has called up Sharjah goalkeeper Mohamed Yousif to replace Ali Khaseif, who has joined the national service,” they tweeted. The news has not been confirmed or denied by the UAE Football Association.
Star playmaker Omar Abdulrahman was on board the flight. The 23-year-old recently began jogging after being sidelined by an ankle problem picked up during the Gulf Cup semi-finals.
The UAE touched down in the southern hemisphere early in the morning, with a two-week training camp set to take place on the Gold Coast. A pair of preparatory friendlies will be played against Jordan on Tuesday, December 30, and Kuwait on Saturday, January 3.
Replacement Yousif, 23, was a non-playing member of the Gulf Cup squad. His spot in the January roster was, initially, taken by the recalled Majed Nasser.
The controversial Al Ahli shot stopper had earned 61 caps for the Whites prior to being abandoned following a succession of serious disciplinary issues. A latest incident came in October’s heated 1-1 Arab-ian Gulf League draw with Al Ain, a six-month ban and Dh200,000 fine later withdrawn on appeal after being alleged to have spat at referee Yacoub Al Hamadi.
Nasser is expected to compete with Al Ain’s Khalid Essa for the right to start the Asian Cup Group C opener against Qatar on January 11.
Club: Al Ahli
Volatile Red Knight looks set to sweep into the starting side after years in the wilderness. Hard to imagine coach Mahdi Ali would have recalled such a fiery character just to sit
Club: Al Ain
Essa continues to be a steady influence for the Boss, standing behind the meanest defence in the division. Has a strong case to be first choice, but must expect disappointment.
This will be another exercise in gaining experience for Yousif. At only 23, his time may come in the future. Can learn from Essa’s calm manner and Nasser’s undoubted ability.
Star playmaker Omar Abdulrahman is fit enough to lead the UAE’s Asian Cup assault after being named in Mahdi Ali’s 24-man preliminary squad.
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Abdulrahman, 23, has not kicked a ball competitively since picking up a badly-bruised right ankle in last month’s Gulf Cup semi-final defeat to Saudi Arabia.
Despite this three-week lay-off, the Al Ain schemer will travel to Australia for January’s prestigious event.
Coach Ali has made six changes to the roster that was selected for the Saudi Arabian tournament. Controversial Ahli goalkeeper Majed Nasser heads the list of recalls, with centre-back Hamdan Al Kamali recovering from a hamstring injury to feature once more.
The key absentee is Wahda veteran Ismail Matar, who is expected to be out for three weeks with a neck injury picked up during a collision with Ahli defender Basher Saeed on Monday.
“Omar Abdulrahman is fine, his doctor reports he has started jogging,” Ali said. “He needs five to seven days to get back to full fitness; Amer Abdulrahman as well has a minor knock and should recover.
“This is not the first time we’ve approached a competition with injuries. The new players aren’t really new to the squad, they’ve
been around and we have seen the return of Majed Nasser who has been through some tough times recently. We wish him the best.
“As I have said before, the ultimate target has always been getting to the World Cup in 2018 and our second target is to get to the last four in Australia.”
Al Shabab midfielder Hassan Ibrahim, Bani Yas winger Haboosh Saleh, Al Wasl striker Saeed Al Kathiri and Al Wahda front man
Salem Saleh complete the list of call-ups.
A final 23-man squad will be selected before the crucial opener against Gulf Cup champions Qatar on January 11. The Whites’ final two Group C fixtures are against Bahrain on January 15 and World Cup finalists Iran on October 19.
Nasser’s inclusion follows a hectic start to the season which saw him successfully appeal against a six-month ban and Dh200,000 fine for reportedly spitting at referee Yacoub Al Hamadi during October’s 1-1 draw against Al Ain.
The incident was the latest in a long line of shocking moments for the 31-year-old, who has won 61 caps for his country. Ali revealed he a spoke at length with Nasser before naming him in the roster.
“Before we announced the squad I went to Al Ahli and sat down with the player and we discussed the matter,” he said. “We want to give him a second chance.
"He promised to abide by our rules and training regimes, and that he will keep out of trouble. We want to benefit from his presence and it’s a chance for him to prove that he is up to the responsibility.”
The UAE rarely flickered into life during their failed Gulf Cup defence last month. Ali insisted his charges were fired up for the meeting with Qatar, which he believes is the “key to this competition”.
He said: “I have received three or four calls from the players, they are really motivated for this competition. That makes me very happy, it is the first time they are calling me to tell me they want to do good things.
“It is a strong group, we will do our best to qualify from the group. The first game against Qatar is the key to this competition.”
Goalkeepers: Majed Nasser, Ali Khaseif, Khalid Essa
Defenders: Mohammed Fawzi, Abdulaziz Haikal, Abdulaziz Sanqour, Hamdan Al Kamali, Mohamed Ahmed, Ismail Ahmed, Mohanad Salem
Midfielders: Ismail Al Hammadi, Hassan Ibrahim, Majed Hassan, Khamis Esmail, Habib Fardan, Amer Abdulrahman, Haboosh Saleh, Mohamed Abdulrahman, Omar Abdulrahman
Forwards: Ali Mabkhout, Ahmed Khalil, Salem Saleh, Saeed Al Kathiri
The chances of Iraqi midfielder Ali Abbas playing in next year's Asian Cup look over after he suffered a suspected serious knee injury in Australia's A-League this weekend.
Abbas, 28, who was recalled to the Iraqi national squad recently seven years after defecting to Australia, is expected to miss the rest of the A-League season after a heavy tackle in the opening minutes of Sydney FC's derby against Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday.
Iraq are in Group C, alongside the UAE with the two teams due to face each other in the final match of the group stage on January 19 in Brisbane.
"The news on Ali Abbas is terrible. It looks like ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and MCL (medial collateral ligament) injury," Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold said.
"I haven't seen it (the challenge) on TV, so I would rather not comment but I was close to it and it looked terrible.
"Ali is devastated. He got smashed twice in two minutes and no yellow card."
The injury followed a heavy challenge from Western Sydney's Italian midfielder Iacopo La Rocca. If the diagnosis is proved correct after scans, Abbas will miss the Asian Cup in Australia which begins in January.
Abbas was a member of the Iraq team that won the Asian Cup in 2007. He fled his war-torn homeland after playing an under-23s international against Australia north of Sydney in 2007, and was later granted asylum to stay in the country.
"It would be great to play in Australia for Iraq and great to play in front of the Sydney FC fans in the Asian Cup, if I'm selected," Abbas said at the time of his call-up to the Iraqi squad in September.