As the hosts of the tournament, the Whites will feel the pressure to qualify from the group in front of an ardent support.
There is nothing more dangerous than home advantage. The pressure is always on the home side to deliver results. Similarly, in the AFC Asian Cup next month, the UAE have more than just a point to prove. The Whites come into the tournament after having missed out on the 2018 FIFA World Cup, despite starting well. They will be looking to make amends in front of their supporters and deliver an unforgettable showing.
Drawn in Group A, the hosts open their campaign against Bahrain, followed by games against India and Thailand. Their grit and energy will certainly be a threat to the Indian side and they will be looking to assert their dominance from the word go.
The 2015 Asian Cup was a memorable one for the UAE. The Whites under head coach Mahdi Ali managed to finish third in the tournament. The UAE finished second in a tough group containing Iran, Qatar and Bahrain before dispatching Japan in the quarterfinals. They succumbed to hosts Australia in the semi-finals, but managed to win the Bronze medal after seeing off a fighting Iraq in the third-place playoff match. It was the side’s best finish after the Silver medal in 1996.
About The Team
UAE have been facing a hard time scoring goals
The UAE head into the Asian Cup with a record of only two wins in seven games. The tough-defending side have found it hard to hit the back of the net in the recent past. In August 2018, they failed to win against Andorra (0-0), before losing to Trinidad and Tobago (2-0) in a preparatory friendly in Spain.
However, the recent games show a slight improvement in the side. The Whites managed to hold Bolivia to a goalless stalemate before dispatching Yemen 2-0. The team will be hoping to hit good form before the tournament starts.
Zaccheroni has prior experience of managing three of the biggest clubs in Italy
Alberto Zaccheroni came to the UAE with an impressive resume. The Italian had managed the big three clubs in Italy ( AC Milan, Inter and Juventus) before moving to Asia. Zaccheroni took over the reins of Japan and immediately got them results. The Italian managed to lead the Blue Samurai to the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar, beating Australia 1-0. However, a dismal 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign saw him resign. After a brief spell at Chinese outfit Beijing Guoan, Zaccheroni was appointed the UAE national team’s head coach.
Under the Italian, the UAE finished runners-up in the 23rd Gulf Cup losing to Oman in the final on penalties. The Whites scored only one goal in five matches in the tournament, but they did not let in a single one. Zaccheroni sets his team up in a traditional Italian style, with emphasis on defensive organization and stability at the back. The former Torino manager usually relies on a 3-4-3 formation, but has also shown flexibility by switching to 4-2-3-1 when required.
A 26-man preliminary squad was announced by the UAE. The squad is as follows.
Goalkeepers: Fahad Al-Dhanhani, Mohamed Al-Shamsi, Ali Khasif
Defenders: Salem Juma, Al Hassan Saleh, Khalifa Mubarak, Mahmoud Khames, Ahmed Rashed, Walid Abbas, Mohammed Marzooq, Khalifa Al-Jammadi, Fares Juma
Midfielders: Ali Salmeen, Khamis Esmaeel, Mohammed Jamal, Khalfan Mubarak, Tarek Al-Khodaim, Saif Rashid, Majed Suroor, Majed Hassan, Ismail Al-Hammadi
Forwards: Mohammad Al-Akberi, Mohammed Khalfan, Ali Mabkhout, Ahmed Rabee, Ahmed Khalil
Players To Watch
The 2015 Asian Cup was a breakout tournament for Ali Mabkhout. The free-scoring striker was a key element in the UAE’s run to the semi-finals, scoring five goals and bagging the Golden Boot. Currently, Ali is also in roaring form for his club Al-Jazira.
Watch: Mabkhout was the top scorer in the AFC Asian Cup 2015
The 28-year-old is currently top of the goalscorers chart in the Arabian Gulf League, with 15 goals in 13 matches. The UAE striker already has 44 goals for his country in 65 appearances and will look to take his team to their first Asian Cup title with strong performances. His presence upfront will be a certain threat to opposing defences and the UAE will be looking to utilize it to the fullest.
Ismail Al Hammadi
If there is one key player the UAE are going to miss in the tournament, it is Omar Abdulrahman. The 2016 Asian Player of the Year will miss the Asian Cup due to a knee injury and the Al-Hilal player’s absence leaves a hole in the midfield, that Ismail Al Hammadi will be expected to fill.
The 30-year-old will be expected to take the load in the middle and exploit opposition midfields with skill and trickery like Abdulrahman. His creativity will need to be on full display if the UAE are to make a mark in the Asian Cup. The Shabab Al Ahli midfielder is one of the mainstays of the team and has made 97 appearances for the Whites, scoring 14 goals and will be hoping to add to his tally.
Abbas will be one of the most vital pieces of the puzzle for Alberto Zaccheroni
For a team that places great emphasis on defence, experience is a key factor. In comes Shabab Al-Ahli defender Walid Abbas. The 33-year-old has been a regular for both club and country and the UAE will be hoping his maturity will be a driving force in their defensive setup.
The Dubai-born player has made 63 appearances for the national team, scoring five times. The former Al-Shabab player was a vital cog in the squad that won the Bronze medal four years ago and will be looking to help his team better that feat.
What To Expect
The last time the UAE hosted the Asian Cup they ended up winning the Silver medal after bowing out to Saudi Arabia in the final. This time around, they will be looking to take the next step and win the title.
They are favourites to come out on top in their group and they will be relying on their grit and solidity at the back to help them progress in the knockout stages, especially against tougher opponents like Iran, Australia and South Korea. A semi-final place is a necessity for a nation looking to stake a claim in the new football order in the continent.