Mahdi Ali: UAE prepared for tough Asian Cup semi-final

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Optimistic: UAE coach Mahdi Ali believes he side can upset hosts Australia in the Asian Cup semi-final.

Buoyed by a stunning victory over tournament favourites and defending champions Japan in the quarter-finals, UAE boss Mahdi Ali is convinced his side have what it takes to upset hosts Australia and head into the Asian Cup final.

With Tuesday's semi-final coming just four days after eliminating the Blue Samurai on penalties after a gruelling 120-minute duel in the Sydney heat, there have been fears the UAE would struggle physically against the Socceroos.

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Ali, however, insists his players have fully recovered, and will take the game to Australia. 

“We played 120 minutes against Japan and it was a strong game,” said Ali.

“For us this is also a very important game and we are very well prepared. 

“We planned to come to this (stage) for a long time and we are very happy to qualify for the semi-final – we will work very hard to achieve our goal in the next match.”

Confirming there are no injury concerns within the squad, despite rumours that playmaker Omar Abdulrahman limped into training in Newcastle on Sunday, defender Mohamed Ahmed echoed the sentiments of his coach.

“After playing the game against Japan and winning, there is a lot of motivation and spirit in the team,” Ahmed explained.

“Of course, we are very optimistic for this game and we hope for a good result as well as playing good football. We will play with our own character and identity.

“We have had three days [rest], so we have made our recovery for this game and I think this will give us more courage to do our best because we’ve worked very hard to reach this level, and we have to work even harder in our next game.”

Having not reached a continental final since hosting the tournament in 1996, the stakes are high for UAE.

The semi-final will therefore see the UAE play with equal parts freedom and tenacity.

“Two years ago we announced that our goal was to reach the semifinal. So the first goal is already achieved and we are happy about this,” Ali said.UAE will need a big game from star man Ali Mabkhout if they are to have any chance of beating Australia.

Tuesday’s clash is the first competitive meeting of the sides and Ali admitted the Whites are up against one of the continents strongest teams.

He added, however, that he wouldn’t be making any special plans to contain Socceroos talisman Tim Cahill, whose brace fired the hosts to an impressive 2-0 win over China in the last eight.

“Australia are not only Tim Cahill. We have to think about the whole team, not just one player,” added Ali. “Australia are one of the best teams in Asia – we have seen that during this tournament. They have good players and work as a team.

Meanwhile, Ange Postecoglou has told his Socceroos side to seize the chance to win Australian “hearts and minds” as they size up an Asian Cup semifinal against the UAE.

Football has long been in the shadow of more established sports in Australia, but a first Asian Cup title for the Socceroos would give the sport a massive boost.

“I think people are extremely excited about the team,” Postecoglou said.

Australia will look to the incumbent Tim Cahill to provide spark to their attack

“That’s part of the responsibility we carry in this tournament.”

He added: “We knew being the hosts that the spotlight would be on us in many respects. “I think the rest of the world has seen the way we have embraced this tournament. It’s been fantastic.”

Postecoglou admitted his side must be wary of UAE star Omar Abdulrahman and top scorer Ali Mabkhout, but said the Whites’ true strength is their spirit and togetherness.

“Abdulrahman is a good player, so is Mabkhout up front,” added the Socceroos coach.

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