The Alberto Zaccheroni era might have got off to a rocky start in the mountainous surroundings of Al Ain’s Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium, but Khalid Essa believes the only way is up for the UAE once the players and new coach get on the same page.
The Whites were downed 1-0 by Haiti on Friday, but a tepid first half display made way for a stirring second half showing in which only the woodwork and Haiti goalkeeper Johny Placide prevented the Whites from winning.
Zaccheroni bemoaned a maiden defeat but praised his players’ efforts after going behind to a Mahmoud Khamis own goal, and pleaded for patience post-match. And Essa followed his coach’s lead, predicating progress once the players adapt to the Italian tactician’s style of play.
“As a person we are getting to know him and we are getting better, we are all in harmony together,” said Al Ain stopper Essa, who played the opening 45 minutes before being replaced at the break by Al Jazira keeper Ali Khaseif.
“We have a very good link with him as a person, but his tactics need time. We have always played 4-4-2 and now we are playing 4-3-3 and this takes time to adapt.
“Inshallah we will be better in the next match, there will be more harmony between the players and the new tactics and style.”
The hosts initially struggled to adapt to the new-look formation, with Al Ain playmaker Omar Abdulrahman often floating into central positions from his berth on the right of the attacking front three.
But after going behind in unfortunate circumstances, they found a footing and markedly improved, particularly after the break when a flurry of changes gave them an injection of pace and energy – with Jazira’s Khalfan Mubarak and Al Wahda’s Mohamed Al Akbari joining Al Nasr youngster Jassim Yaqoob on the field.
And Boss talisman Abdulrahman echoed his clubmate Essa and coach’s plea for patience.
“This was a good test for us,” said Abdulrahman. “We are working well with Zaccheroni and he needs more time, and we need more time to understand his tactics.”
After the debacle that was the Edgardo Bauza reign, Essa insisted the friendly result mattered little in comparison to the spirited second half performance, something that was not present in the Argentine’s fleeting time in charge.
“We played for the first time together under the new coach. Regardless of the result I think the team hasn’t performed like this, with spirit, for a long time,” said Essa, pointing to a more harmonious atmosphere within the camp and an improved relationship between players and management.
“They were fighting for every ball, we threatened the Haiti goal several times but we couldn’t score and scoring is the most important thing in any football match.
“Zaccheroni is a great coach, he’s had a good career and everyone knows he’s a big name in the football world. He deals very well with all players, he treats us equally. There is no big player and small player.”
The UAE next face Uzbekistan in Al Ain on Tuesday (17:00 KO).
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