Five key battles which will decide Australia vs UAE

Sport360 staff 27/03/2017
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

Ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup 2018 qualifier between Australia and UAE, we look at five key battles.

Who do you think will come out on top and what do you make of our key battles?

We want to hear from you so comment below, use #360fans on Twitter or get in touch via Facebook to do so.

AHMED KHALIL v MARK MILLIGAN

If the Al Ahli striker passes a late fitness test on a calf problem, he will need to swiftly rediscover his lethal form. If even half-fit, expect him to better Bani Yas’ Milligan in his unfamiliar centre-back role.

ALI MABKHOUT v TRENT SAINSBURY

Striker Mabkhout has fired blanks in qualifying, despite destroying the Arabian Gulf League. Sainsbury has struggled for game time at Intenrazionale, yet his class as Asia’s best defender should tell.

OMAR ABDULRAHMAN v BRAD SMITH

‘Amoory’ did not play like the 2016 AFC Player of the Year against Japan, going missing in another big game. But back him to prosper this time against a wing-back rarely utilised by Bournemouth.

KHAMIS ESMAIL v MILE JEDINAK

This titanic clash in one to cherish. These two players are colossal figures in the centre midfields of Asian football. Esmail was back to his best against Japan, meaning he is the form man.

MOHAMED SALEM v TIM CAHILL

Veteran forward Cahill isn’t likely to start, but his nous off the bench caught out the UAE and Salem in September. With the centre-back recently shaky, back Cahill to pounce.

Recommended

Most popular

AFC World Cup Qualifier: UAE 0-2 Japan

Fortune finally deserted the UAE against Japan on Thursday night, its absence leaving hopes of making a second-ever World Cup increasingly parlous.

Ambitions of securing a third win in a row against Asian royalty by the ‘Golden Generation’ were first rocked before kick-off as it became apparent 15-goal qualifying top scorer Ahmed Khalil – the hero from the victorious previous meeting in Saitama – had failed a fitness test on a calf strain.

Gent forward Yuya Kubo’s early opener and Gamba Osaka anchorman Yasuyuki Konno’s toe poke soon after the interval then effectively terminated all dreams of another landmark result.

With 46 shots conceded to just eight registered in the previous slender wins during September’s reverse fixture and the 2015 Asian Cup’s quarter-finals, this 2-0 defeat had been coming.

Yet the amateurish defending on show and the peripheral performance of 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman at his Hazza bin Zayed Stadium has ensured three points must, somehow, be harvested at continental champions and perennial participants Australia on Tuesday to stay in the mix from the final round of qualifying for Russia 2018. Fail to do so and ascent into the qualification spots from fourth will look almost impossible.

UAE hopes were left shaken even before kick-off, as Khalil’s absence and the curious solution chosen to tackle the problem was revealed. The following result will have only added to the engulfing pressure placed on embattled UAE boss Mahdi Ali from a campaign bedeviled by questions about his future.

In came 33-year-old, 114-cap veteran forward Ismail Matar. Not exactly like for like, even though the dogmatic adherence to the 4-4-2 formation remained.

Japan’s imposing XI boasted eight Europe-based stars. Konno was the stand-in for injured skipper Makoto Hasebe and Southampton’s Maya Yoshida donned the armband.

A strange lack of urgency was apparent from the hosts, in a fixture which required a positive result. The 1-1 draw registered by the Socceroos against Iraq and Saudi Arabia’s 3-0 dismantling of Thailand only increased the pressure not to become marooned in Group B.

But the Whites went behind on 13 minutes, from a goal which owed equally to incisive attacking and rancid defending.

Borussia Dortmund schemer Shinji Kagawa – who expertly orchestrated throughout – and Marseille’s Gotoku Sakai swiftly advanced up the pitch. The right-back’s pass played Kubo into a pocket of space Al Ahli left-back Abdulaziz Sanqour should not have vacated, an instant shot creeping past Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa at his near post to open his international account at the third time of asking.

An instant retort should have followed from Al Jazira centre forward Ali Mabkhout. But the meek low shot produced by him was reminiscent of the man with just five 2018 qualifying goals, rather than a colossal 26 strikes in the current Arabian Gulf League.

The Samurai Blue’s experience as five-time successive entrants saw them further choke a match in which ‘Amoory’ struggled. The yellow card on his home ground earned booting Metz shot stopper Eiji Kawashima spoke of his frustration.

Ali’s troops were, temporarily, less moribund after the interval. Flyer Ismail Al Hammadi’s air shot from an inviting Sanqour cross should have produced the leveler.

This was mistake was to be instantly punished. Another Ahli full-back critically erred, Abdulaziz Haikal egregiously misjudging the flight of a harmless Kubo cross to let Konno poke in the second.

Fight then deserted the UAE as shots peppered Essa’s goal without reward.

They will need to rediscover their vigour to stand any chance of shocking the Socceroos in Sydney and injecting life into an ailing campaign.

Most popular

Mahdi Ali: 'Football doesn't believe in history'

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

UAE boss Mahdi Ali has warned his players that history will count for nothing as they gun for a third-successive win against heavyweights Japan which would reignite their stuttering campaign to make World Cup 2018.

The Whites currently sit one place outside the progression spots in fourth, with the third-and-final round poised at the halfway mark.

But if critical Group B fixtures go badly against the Samurai Blue tonight at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium and Tuesday’s trip to another perennial participant in Australia, they could be left with too much ground to make up to those sides and Saudi Arabia in the chase to secure a second-ever entry after their debut at World Cup 1990.

Indomitable defending and profligate finishing has defined the last two clashes between Thursday’s opponents, from which the ‘Golden Generation’ emerged with famous victories at the start of this phase and the 2015 Asian Cup’s quarter-finals.

And speaking in front of more than 100 journalists at a packed press conference on Tuesday, Ali insisted hard work rather than previous results will define the outcome of this high-pressure clash.

“Football doesn’t believe about history, what happened in the previous game is in the past,” said the 51-year-old, who has faced extreme scrutiny since October’s execrable 3-0 defeat in Saudi.

“Football only knows one language: how prepared you are, how strong you are on the pitch, how much effort you give in the game.

“And I think we always play our football, always try to work hard whether in training or on the pitch. And that makes the difference in the team.”

September’s shock 2-1 triumph for the UAE in Saitama was defined not only by Al Ahli striker Ahmed Khalil’s set-piece brace, but an inexplicable decision to deny substitute Takuma Asano a late leveler despite goalkeeper Khalid Essa clearly clawing his shot away from behind the line.

This decision – which generated a formal protest by the Japanese Football Federation – still irked irascible visiting coach Vahid Halilhodzic when quizzed about both avoiding another surprise and the appointment of Uzbekistani referee Ravshan Irmatov for this match in the Garden City.

The ex-Paris Saint-Germain and Al Ittihad supremo replied: “I will want to avoid bad refereeing. Is that understood?”

“I don’t like to speak so much about referees, but I will want to trust this referee. We are concentrating to play this great UAE team, that has high qualities. I hope we will have the correct refereeing that this World Cup qualifier deserves.”

Japan will definitely be without injured skipper and Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Makoto Hasebe because of knee surgery.

For the UAE, they are sweating on the results of late fitness tests for Khalil and dominant Al Ain centre-back Ismail Ahmed.

Most popular