Al Habsi: My best is yet to come
My best is yet to come, says Oman football superstar Ali Al Habsi
Oman's football superstar Ali Al Habsi has come out openly to defend the Under-22 team that had a dismal show in the AFC Championship hosted in Muscat last month.
Speaking exclusively to Times Sport in an interview, the Oman national team skipper and Wigan Athletic goalkeeper said the young players need more time to perform well at the international level.
"They are a young side and they need more matches to gain experience. We should treat these tournaments as a learning platform for these boys. I am sure they will bounce back very soon and they should because they are the future of Oman football," Al Habsi said.
Oman's campaign in the championship ended at the group stage when they were beaten by South Korea and Jordan.
The only noteworthy performance from the Omani side came during the opening match when they beat Myanmar 4-0.
The lacklustre show forced the Oman Football Association (OFA) to sack Frenchman Philippe Burle.
"I think it's not fair to criticise the boys for the bad performance. In football, such things do happen. Even our senior team player went through a difficult phase many a time but we have come back strongly. I am sure they are capable of performing at the top," he noted.
Al Habsi arrived from London on Sunday morning to play in the final Asian Cup Group A qualifier against Singapore on Wednesday at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex. Oman has already secured a third appearance at the AFC Asian Cup finals scheduled to be held in Australia 2015 and Al Habsi missed last three games of the qualifiers due to a shoulder injury that sidelined him for seven months.
"At times, the shoulder still hurts but that's normal. My doctor said it will take at least a year to get back to normal condition. But it doesn't worry me in anyway nor does it affect my performance," he noted.
After recovering from the injury, Al Habsi has made a phenomenal comeback with some spectacular performances for English Championship side Wigan.
Late last month, Al Habsi guided Wigan to the FA Cup quarterfinals, scheduled for March 9 when the defending champions face Manchester City, whom they beat last season for their maiden Cup triumph.
"I am quite excited about this match. It is certainly a big game for us. The fact that we had beaten them in the final last year is an added advantage for us," Al Habsi said.
"We have worked hard to reach this stage and we do not want to slip up at this stage. I am confident our team will do well," he added.
Al Habsi also credited Wigan's new manager Uwe Rosler for the team's progress in the FA Cup.
"I think he is someone who pushes you to give your best. He has been great for the team," he said adding: "I had some good performances this season. I am going through some of the best days of my career."
At the same time, he stressed: "But my best is yet to come."
Speaking about the national team and French coach Paul Le Guen, he said: "There are quite a few young players in the team. And Le Guen is doing an excellent job as he has brought some great fresh talents into the side.
"I am really looking forward to playing along with them in the coming matches."
Referring to the Singapore match, he said: "We are not taking Singapore lightly. We want to complete our qualifying campaign with another win. It will boost our morale ahead of the Asian Cup," Al Habsi added.
"I thought it was all over for me"
The 31-year-old goalkeeper said recuperating from the injury was the darkest phase of his career.
"At one point, I thought it was all over," Al Habsi admitted. "That was one of the lowest points in my career. It was quite a depressing time not just for me but also for my family," he said.
But the Omani skipper became confident after doctors promised to bring him back to the game.
"I knew that was one difficult phase of my career. I was not the first footballer to go through such a state, so I was confident about making a comeback. My family remains my pillar of strength but at the same time, it was physiotherapist Harry Brooke who played a major role in helping me to regain my fitness," he said.
"It was hard missing the final but, as a professional, you have to accept such strange realities. Not everything goes your way all the time. The most important thing about Wembley was that we won," he noted.
"Looking back, I think that the injury proved a boon for me. I must say I am back to my best," he added with a smile.