UAE fighting fit for Gulf Cup of Nations defence

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Big task ahead: The UAE will begin the defence of their Gulf Cup of Nations title in Riyadh on Friday.

 The UAE head to Riyadh tomorrow to begin the final stage of prepara­tions for their Gulf Cup defence with a clean bill of health.

The 24-man Whites squad have been ensconced in Dammam to the east of the Saudi Arabian capi­tal since departing from Dubai on October 29.

During that time, coach Mahdi Ali has concentrated on getting his players into peak shape to launch their Group B campaign when they face Oman at 18:45 on Friday.

Much of the focus during that time has rested, as ever, on star playmaker Omar Abdulrahman. The 23-year-old has not played for club side Al Ain since September 30 because of a knee problem.

But he has trained with his team-mates in the last fortnight, report­ing no ill effects from turning outin the second half of Thursday’s 3-2 friendly victory against Lebanon.

Following their arrival, the Whites are scheduled to train at the 15,000-capacity Al Riyadh Stadium in the south west of the city from 18:00 to 20:00.

They will have another run out at 18:00 tomorrow at Al Shabab Club Stadium, before heading to the Prince Faisal bin Fahad Stadium for Friday’s competitive fixture.

Meanwhile, Al Ain and UAE star Ismail Ahmed has been nominated for the 2014 AFC Player of the Year award on the back of a string of impressive performances which saw the Boss reach the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League.

Al Hilal striker Nassir Al Shamra­ni and 2006 AFC Player of the Year Khalfan Ibrahim of Qatar will com­pete with the powerful centre-back for the continent’s top individual footballing honour.

An ever-present in Al Ain’s back-four, Ahmed was imperious during his team’s tilt at continental glory and the 31-year-old will be hoping that his performances will see him become the first UAE national to be awarded the accolade.

Leading scorer in five of the past seven seasons in Saudi Arabia’s top flight, Al Shamrani lit up this year’s AFC Champions League but bowed out of the final in disgrace after headbutting and then spitting at Western Sydney Wanderers player Matthew Spiranovic.

Al Shamrani scored 10 goals en route to this year’s final for the Sau­di outfit, including two against Al Ain in the semi-final first-leg.

The AFC Annual Awards will be held in Manila, Philippines, on November 30 in conjunction with the governing body’s 60th anniver­sary celebrations. China’s Zheng Zhi of Guangzhou Evergrande won last year’s award.

Two-time winner Japan’s Aya Miyama, Australian Katrina Gorry and Nahomi Kawasumi (Japan) have been nominated for the 2014 AFC Women’s Player of the Year award.

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