Pakistani football chiefs want Maradona to help grow game as he has in UAE

Barnaby Read 27/03/2014
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Pakistan's football chiefs have invited Diego Maradona to visit the country and help grow the sport as he has in the UAE after the Argentina legend disparagingly compared his own association to the South Asian nation's.

The 53-year-old accused the Argentine Football Association (AFA) of "understanding as much about football as Pakistan does".

Naveed Haider, a senior official of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF), welcomed the fact Maradona was talking about his country and urged him to visit to lift the game's profile.

"I would love Maradona to come to Pakistan and help Pakistan," said Haider, noting the Argentine's sports ambassador role for Dubai Sports Council .

"He plays a very effective role [in the UAE] and we welcome him to come and develop football here."

Maradona became Honorary Ambassador of Sports in Dubai last year following an unsuccessful spell at the helm of Arabian Gulf League side Al Wasl between 2011-2012. The former  a role that he will continue after signing a one-year extention to his contract with Dubai Sports Council.

Pakistan, ranked a lowly 158th in the world, have come a long way despite their footballing struggles and the PFF believe that Maradona's global appeal could help grow the game further in the country, as per his role in Dubai.

Pakistan have climbed in the FIFA rankings from a low of 172 last year to their current position, and recently drew with higher-ranked Malaysia, a notable result for the country.

Tariq Lutfi, head coach of the Pakistani champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) said Maradona's comments were out-of-date.

"He would be right if he was talking 12 years back. But nowadays the federation is taking many steps including doing a lot for its youth programme," he said.

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Sport360° view: UAE must break Iran jinx to thrive at Asian Cup

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Taking their talents Down Under: Mohammed Fawzi and Omar Abdulrahman.

Mahdi Ali might not have raised his baseball cap to the news but he would have been afforded a smile as he took in the draw for the Asian Cup.

The UAE have been placed in Group C alongside Iran, Qatar and Bahrain. By no means an easy pool but it could have been a lot worse, with the Whites narrowly avoiding heavyweights Japan.

Samurai Blue, who will not have it easy alongside Iraq and Jordan in Group D, are likely to await in the quarter-finals though, meaning Mahdi’s men must realistically win their pool if they are to make good on their promise to reach the last four.

Historically the UAE have not done all that well in Asian football’s biggest tournament. They reached the semi-finals in 1992 and were runners-up four years later on home soil, but have not made it out of the group stages on six further appearances.

This time was supposed to be different, under Mahdi the Whites are on a 20-game unbeaten run and have won the Gulf Cup of Nations.

There is a long way to go between now and their first game on January 11, 2015 at Canberra Stadium, but in their favour is the fact they play both Qatar and Bahrain first.

The current political situation which has seen the UAE, along with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, withdraw its ambassador from Doha is sure to give that clash an added edge but the country’s footballers should need no extra motivation.

Mahdi’s side must win their first two games if they are to top Group C and they will be confident too. The Whites beat both Qatar and Bahrain en route to Gulf Cup success last year and could meet them in Riyadh again in November with the draw for the 2014 Gulf Cup set to take place in August.

They have scored 11 goals in their last three games against Bahrain, but tournament football brings with it a certain kind of pressure. Knowing how important those matches are could get to the players, with Iran looming in the final game.

The UAE’s record against the three-time Asian Cup winners is woeful, winning just one of 15 games, losing 11 and scoring just four goals. The most recent of those defeats is still painful, as a 3-0 reverse, including a Walid Abbas own goal, confirmed a pitiful and goalless exit from the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar.

At least nine of the players who played three years ago will be in the squad for the game in Brisbane on January 19. They are a different animal now though, with the core having impressed at the 2012 Olympics before winning the Gulf Cup.

They will therefore be determined to banish the painful memory of three years ago and if they can maintain their form over the next 10 months they will arrive in Australia assured that they can do just that.

Silence is never golden for Cosmin

Making your return to UAE football at the home of your former club, the club that had got you banned in the first place, many coaches would have kept a low profile. But then Cosmin Olaroiu is not most coaches.

Not content with the good fortune of finding his dugout situated in front of Al Ahli staff, WAGs and media, the Romanian roamed the technical area theatrically, making himself a target for the Al Ain fans nearby.

He took particular exception to the Boss’ second-half penalty and ran onto the pitch at the final whistle to remonstrate with the referee. It was a pity because he didn’t need to do it.

Ahli were comfortably the better side for much of the game and should have won more comfortably than they did in the end. Yes the penalty was debatable but in the end it had no effect on a result that keeps the Red Knights six points clear at the top of the Arabian Gulf League with just six games left.

The Dubai club are also in the finals of the League and President’s Cups and second in Group D of the AFC Champions League only on goal difference. Olaroiu should be enjoying the fruits of his good work at the Rashid Stadium, which has been carried out under undoubted pressure.

Yet the Romanian appears to covert controversy and revel in drama. It was that ego that prompted his move from Al Ain to Dubai, but let’s hope it does not sour the historic success his side could yet complete.

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Mahdi unhappy UAE grouped with Gulf rivals

David Cooper 26/03/2014
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Draw time: AFC General Secretary Dato' Alex Soosay holds up the name of UAE.

UAE national team coach Mahdi Ali is disappointed so many nations from the Gulf have been drawn against each other in the Asia Cup 2015 group stage, but insists it will not detract from The Whites’ ambition of reaching the last-four.

The Asia Cup draw took place in Sydney on Wednesday and the UAE were placed in Group C alongside Iran, Qatar, and Bahrain.

The UAE defeated both Qatar and Bahrain in the group stage of the 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations on the way to the title, while number one ranked Asian nation Iran, who will participate in the 2014 World Cup, will pose a strong test for Mahdi’s men.

Talking in Sydney following the draw, Mahdi believed it was a shame three Gulf nations were grouped together and therefore fewer would be representing this region in the knockout stages.

“I did not wish to have three [Gulf Cup] nations in the same group to give more chances for them to qualify,” Mahdi said. “A small competition reflecting the big one in Asia.”

The UAE are currently ranked fifth in Asia – 61st in the world – and are hotly tipped to make a big impact at next year’s tournament.

The excitement surrounding the Whites is in no small part due to their stunning form in the past 18 months; remaining unbeaten in 20 matches and qualifying for the Asia Cup top of their group with five wins and a draw.

“We have already announced we want to be in the best four teams in Asia and I hope we achieve our goal. We wish to qualify to the semi final,” Mahdi stated.

“I think that the UAE have spent a lot of planning for this generation,” he added. “I think we have a good generation who have played many tournaments.”

While Mahdi has set his team a target of reaching the last-four, group rivals Qatar are aiming for nothing less than the title.

“We don’t have any limits; we are here to win the tournament simple as that,” Qatar coach Djamel Belmadi said. “I hope we will be strong enough and good enough and believe in ourselves to go as far as possible.”

Meanwhile Iran coach Carlos Queiroz believes his team’s World Cup campaign will prove invaluable when they arrive in Australia next year.

“Football is all about pressure, and pressure to win the next game,” the former Real Madrid manager said. “I’m sure that after the World Cup the team can have a lift with the preparation and the experience, they will be more strong when they start the Asian competition.”

While Qatar, the UAE, and Iran have specific goals to reach the latter stages of the tournament, Bahrain boss Anthony Hudson is remaining more pragmatic, although the Englishman does believe his side can go far.

“We're going to quietly do what we're doing. We're building our team. We're going to be optimistic and [try] to cause an upset and do something special,” Hudson said.

“We're not going to scream and shout too loud but we're going to work hard and prepare. We've certainly come here to go very far.

“I think it's a good group and I think we've missed two or three of the big teams were familiar with. We're happy.”

FULL DRAW:

Group A
Korea Republic
Australia
Oman
Kuwait

Group B
Saudi Arabia
China PR
DPR Korea
Uzbekistan

Group C
UAE
Qatar
Bahrain
Iran

Group D
Jordan
Iraq
Japan
AFC Challenge Cup winners

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