Al Ain’s AFC Champions League stars have made a welcome return to boost the UAE ranks for today’s friendly with Lithuania.
Five Boss players missed last Wednesday’s laboured 0-0 draw with Norway because of their exertions securing progression to the semi-finals of Asia’s elite club competition against Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad.
Key men Khalid Essa, Mohammed Ahmed, Mohanad Salem, Ismail Ahmed and Omar Abdulrahman have now all joined up with their team-mates midway through the three-week European training camp.
They are available for the second of a trio of international fixtures, as the Whites gear up for November’s Gulf Cup defence in Saudi Arabia and January’s trip to Australia for the Asian Cup.
Coach Mahdi Ali has no new injuries to report for the match at Sportplatz Matrei Stadium in Linz, Austria (kick-off: 20:30).
The starting side is expected to be much changed, with the Al Ain call-ups filtering back in and new options being explored ahead of the final friendly against Paraguay on September 9.
Lithuania, 38 places below UAE at 103 in the latest FIFA rankings, are preparing for their opening Euro 2016 qualifier against San Marino on September 8.
UAE striker Ismail Matar is looking forward to a return to the pitch in a couple of weeks after being ruled out of action due to an injury to his left knee.
Speaking to the UAE FA's official website from his national side's training camp in Linz, Austria, Matar said he would be hoped to be fully recovered in four weeks and that no surgery would be needed in the process.
Matar will not only return to action i ntime for Wahda's new Arabian Gulf League season but also in time to get games under his belt ahead of the UAE's Gulf Cup campaign in Riyadh and the AFC Asian Cup 2015 finals in Australia, later this year.
“I have reached an advanced stage,” he said. “I was examined by three specialists in football injuries in Munich, Germany, and they have all agreed that I’m suffering a crack in the basic stone of the left knee which should be handled carefully with injections and physiotherapy without any need for surgical intervention."
Matar, who led the UAE to their first Gulf Cup of Nations title in 2007 said he was also hoping to break his duck in the Asian Cup, hinting that Australia may be his last outing in a UAE shirt.
“I have never struck in any of the previous AFC Asian Cup championships and I need to end my drought in Australia 2015 before ending my international career as well,” he said.
“I think we are very close to claim our first AFC Asian Cup silverware in the light of the convincing qualification to the finals with five wins and a draw. But, we need to do more since facing opponents in the caliber of Iran, Bahrain and Qatar in the group stage is not going to be easy at all. We have finished runners up to KSA in 1996 and the time has come to go one better this time out."
Regarding the chances of the Whites to retain their Gulf Cup title which they have won in Bahrain 2012, Matar said the upcoming edition of the regional competition is going to be equally difficult.
“Nobody can deny that UAE has been drawn in a tough group featuring Iraq, Kuwait and Oman which was termed as the ‘iron group’, but in order to win the title, you have to beat all your opponents,” he said.
“In my opinion, we have every chance to defend our crown. We have won all our matches in Bahrain and defeated Iraq in the final. The Whites are making a steady progress in the FIFA Ranking and this has made our opponents in Gulf region take us very seriously and we need to be careful.
Matar backed the UAE FA's decision to extend the contract of head coach Mahdi Ali until 2018, pointing out that Ali is capable to guide the team to a second World Cup in Russia.
“I think this generation of players deserves all support as they have every chance to repeat the achievement of the 1990 and do it again for the nation,” he said. “I’m truly obliged to the head coach Mahdi Ali for calling me once again for the senior football national team.
It’s true that I didn’t take part in any of the training sessions during the current Austrian tour, but Ali’s confidence was of great help for me and has played a major role during my stay in Munich."
Rashed Salem Khalfan finished as the tournament’s top scorer while Dubai’s FC Hatta under-17 team clinched the Evima Cup Albena 2014 in Bulgaria.
Despite losing their opening match to Cherno More Varna 2-0, the UAE side beat Kazakhstan’s FC Kaspiy and FC Kairat 3-2 and 2-1 respectively, as well as an impressive 6-0 win over Bulgaria’s FC Dobrudja.
Khalfan finished with a tally of six goals as FC Hatta topped the league with nine points, two ahead of runners-up FC Kaspi.
FC Cherno finished in third place.
Coach Azzam Ahmed Barkook praised the effort of his squad, which consisted of 18 Emiratis, as well as players from Oman, Syria, France, Egypt and Sudan.
He said: “It was a tremendous effort by the boys as we worked very hard in preparing for this competition.
“There were some strong teams and I knew before the competition started that it would not be easy to win. Each player played to their strengths and despite losing the opening game, the boys didn’t allow the defeat to affect them mentally Instead, they remained concentrated and played great football.”
Speaking of Khalfan, the coach added: “He had a very good tournament and his goals were of the highest quality.”
With the trip organised by MICE Sports, Barkook is hopeful the team can compete in more international competitions.
“The boys learned a lot in the competition. Overall, it was a good experience for the team and this will give them the confidence to do well in the future,” he said.