Mahdi Ali believes UAE will be ready for all scenarios against Malaysia
The visitors lie bottom of the five-team Asian Zone Group A after drawing 1-1 with East Timor and being routed 6-0 by Palestine in their opening two home qualifiers in June.
Dollah Salleh’s men, who have been disrupted by injuries and problematic preparations given that the Malaysian Super League only finished on August 22, were also thrashed 6-0 by Oman away in March.
However, Ali, whose side are third in the group on three points behind leaders Palestine and second-place Saudi Arabia on goal difference following June’s 1-0 win away to East Timor, vowed not to be complacent.
“We are very excited for this game and have to score goals and get a positive result,” he told media at the venue for the match, Al Jazira’s Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium, on Wednesday.
“We have to respect them and then need to score at least the first goal. We are prepared for all scenarios and are ready for this game.
“We know Malaysia have very good players, so we have to focus.”
But surely a side who are 98 places below the 70th-placed UAE in the Fifa rankings will represent mere cannon fodder for the buoyant hosts, who came third in January’s Asian Cup?
Speaking through a translator, Ali replied: “Now there is nothing like an easy match in Asia. All of the Asian national teams have improved in the last three or four years.
“We have to respect the Malaysian team. This is a very important game for us.”
He cautioned against judging Thursday’s opponents on their recent indifferent form, insisting that results such as the Palestine humiliation were often due to individual mistakes despite a good team performance.
Ali also dismissed suggestions that the hot and humid weather, allied to a hectic schedule with the Arabian Gulf League and Arabian Gulf Cup having started last month, would affect his men.
“That will not be a main excuse for us,” he insisted. “We know that the weather is hot and humid. Other countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia have leagues that started in mid-August like us.
“We have to be flexible for this agenda set up by Fifa and the AFC [Asian Football Confederation]. We have to train and work hard.”
Ali and Al Ain defender Esmail Ahmad went on to predict a bright future for the UAE, given the rich seam of talent in the country’s Under-19 and Olympic squads.
One tyro who could feature on Thursday is the 19-year-old Al Wahda striker Mohammad Al Akbari, who was scintillating and scored the only goal in last Friday’s home friendly win against Myanmar.
Ali said Al Akbari and other prodigies would play a pivotal role when the UAE host the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
After the game against Malaysia, the UAE head to Palestine for another qualifier on September 8 and will prepare for this in Jordan from Friday.
Following the trip to Palestine, Ali’s charges will play Saudi Arabia away on October 8 and East Timor at home on November 12.
If successful in progressing to Russia 2018, it would be only the second time the Whites have reached the global showpiece after they competed at the 1990 tournament in Italy.
Top teams from all eight second-round World Cup qualifying groups progress to the third round, along with the four best runners-up. In the third round, which comprises two groups of six teams, the top two will qualify for the World Cup, while the two third-placed sides will enter intercontinental play-offs.
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