UAE coach Mahdi Ali insists he is more motivated than ever to “achieve many dreams” after celebrating the renewal of his contract.
Ali, 49, agreed a three-year extension on February 25 to ensure he will be in place to mastermind the push for World Cup 2018 qualification. He has been a roaring success since taking charge of the senior side in 2012, lifting the 2013 Gulf Cup and finishing third at January’s Asian Cup.
Speaking on Tuesday at the UAE Football Association headquarters in Dubai, the former Whites midfielder revealed the ambition to guide his country to new heights is stronger than ever.
He said: “This is a big challenge for me. It is a good opportunity to achieve many dreams in my mind.
“I feel like I am in a race and there are some goals I want to achieve personally and with the team. This is always making me motivated for the future.
“It is a big responsibility for taking this job – as an Emirati it is my duty to support and serve my country. We are planning for upcoming competitions, starting with June’s World Cup/Asian Cup qualifiers.
“We hope to reach the World Cup finals. We have a good generation and we deserve to be in Russia 2018, but to do that there is a lot of work and planning to do.”
Ali has turned hopefuls like Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout into superstars on a journey together from the UAE U-16s, through to reaching the 2012 Olympics and shining Down Under this winter.
The former Al Ahli boss and ex-Bani Yas caretaker’s achievements had not gone unnoticed elsewhere, interest growing in his service the longer no consensus had been reached on a deal which was set to expire in July.
“Offers are always there,” Ali said. “But the clubs know the relationship I have with the national team, that keeps people from talking about it.
“They [the UAE FA] were busy with other things so it took a while to finalise it. It was only a process matter, not anything else.”
Ali then revealed the extent of his commitment to the UAE cause when asked if he missed the day-to-day responsibilities of being a club boss.
— Arabian Gulf League (@AGL_Sports) March 24, 2015
He replied: “Every day I feel I am on duty. Even when I am sleeping I keep a pencil and paper next to me, as I might have an idea.
“Coaching a national team is a different way of working, you have to think of many, many things. You have a short time to prepare the team, the expectation is very high and the pressure is higher than any local team.”
With the Asian Cup squad possessing an average age of 25.3, there remains plenty of room for progression.
No Emirati has yet earned a permanent contract with a European club despite their international successes however, Abdulrahman recently spurning interest to agree a three-year extension with Al Ain.
Asian Cup top scorer Mabkhout has been vocal about heading west however, with Ali insisting “the time has come” to see Emiratis follow the example of their fellow Asian heavyweights.
He said: “In 2008 [in the AFC U-19 Championship] we played against Australia and none of their players were based in Europe. Then we played the Asian Cup semi-final in January and 80 per cent of the team are professional players.
“This makes a difference. If we had players playing in Europe, it will add value to the team.
“It will improve their level, teach them new things and this will help the team in the future. The time has come to see some Emirati players in Europe.”
He added: “There is always an opportunity for improvement, we have to keep that in our mind. What will give added value is experience, which will be more helpful for the upcoming matters.
“In the future, these players will get more experience and do better in the future. We need to work harder and get enough time to prepare for the international games.
“This is our situation.”
Manchester United striker Radamel Falcao, Chelsea winger Juan Cuadrado and Inter Milan midfielder Freddy Guarin are among the Cololmbia stars set to grace Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City next Monday for an international friendly with Kuwait.
It was confirmed on Tuesday that the stellar cast of Colombians will head to the UAE for the friendly on March 30.
Los Cafeteros – the third-best team in the world, according to FIFA’s rankings – first face Bahrain on Thursday (March 26) before travelling to Abu Dhabi.
Kuwait, ranked 125th in the world, go into the friendly after a disappointing Asian Cup campaign, in which they lost all three of their games and finished bottom of Group A.
Coach Jose Pekerman has already stated that he hopes the two fixtures in the Gulf will help United forward Falcao gain confidence after a turbulent season at Old Trafford.
— Zayed Sports City (@ZayedSportsCity) March 24, 2015
On Falcao, Pekerman said: “It’s a huge problem that we need to resolve: this problem is as large as the sadness that Falcao is going through right now.
“I feel I need to support him because I understand how hard it is for him and the difficult moment he is experiencing. I want to work with him again and help him restore his confidence.”
Kick-off at Zayed Sports City is 8pm GST and tickets are available for Dhs70 at the gate.
Goalkeepers: David Ospina, Camilo Vargas
Defenders: Pablo Armero, Eder Alvarez Balanta, Johan Mojica, Jeison Murillo, Santiago Arias, Pedro Franco, Darwin Andrade, Daniel Bocanegra
Midfielders: Wilmar Barrios, Fredy Guarin, Abel Aguilar, Carlos Sanchez, Juan Cuadrado, Juan Fernando Quintero, Alexander Mejia, Edwin Carmona
Forwards: Teo Gutierrez, Radamel Falcao, Carlos Bacca, Adrian Ramos, Rafael Santos Borre, Andres Renteria
The UAE’s growing relevance to global football was confirmed yesterday as FIFA announced the Club World Cup will return to the country in 2017 and 2018.
The Emirates was revealed as hosts for the event during a meeting of the sport’s governing body’s Executive Committee in Zurich, Switzerland. If the current format remains, this will see the champion sides from the six confederations plus the reigning Arabian Gulf League winners compete for glory.
Matches were played at Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium and Zayed Sports City when the competition was previously held in the UAE in 2009 and 2010.
No official annoucement has yet been made about which venues or cities will be used.
The news completes an exciting few weeks for UAE football, with the Asian Football Confederation on March 9 choosing the country as hosts for the 2019 Asian Cup.
Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed, National Security Advisor and Honorary Chairman of the UAE Football Association, said the acceptance of the UAE’s bidconfirms the county’s ability to organise and host major world sports championships.
“The UAE will take the world by surprise and beat all expectations when it hosts the three prominent world sports events, which will add another feather to the UAE’s cap,” he said.
The win, he noted, is a source of pride throughout the Arab World and its impact will go beyond the sports sector to underpinning international confidence in the UAE, its leadership and progress.
He also underscored the determination of the UAE leadership to provide the UAE sports sector will all resources to allow its athletes to participate in international competitions.