UAE not taking Malaysia match for granted
UAE keeping grounded ahead of Malaysia match
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One of the most striking and laudable features of the UAE national football team is that they do not bask in glories or dwell on bitter defeats.
This ability to focus on the immediate future has underpinned the Whites’ 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifying campaign in Asian zone Group A, which continues away to Malaysia on Tuesday.
The second-placed UAE walloped the Malaysians 10-0 at home in September, their second-highest victory, and achieved comparable attacking brilliance in Thursday’s 8-0 rout of East Timor in Abu Dhabi.
But after both post-match press conferences, the Whites’ pragmatic head coach, Mahdi Ali, has been poker-faced and stressed the need to avoid complacency and over-confidence.
He was similarly phlegmatic after the Whites suffered a 2-1 defeat away to Group A leaders Saudi Arabia, who are three points ahead of the UAE, in September.
For Ali is desperate for the UAE to create history by reaching only their second World Cup after Italia ‘90 and is wary of wild emotions affecting this bid. To this end, he has demanded that his men maintain focus and win all of their final three qualifiers, including a seismic showdown with the Saudis at home in March.
The capricious nature of football means nothing can be taken for granted and, with this in mind, the red-capped tactician has meticulously formulated a four-point plan for the clash against the fourth-placed Harimau Malaya.
Speaking on Sunday, Ali said: “The first advice is the need to respect the opponent and forget about the result of the previous meeting. The second is the need to make good use of the opportunities that arise during the game and strive to score as many goals as possible.”
Ali is acutely award that goal difference could prove crucial if the UAE are to progress to the third and final qualifying round, with only top spot ensuring this.
The Whites are currently six goals better off than the Saudis, although Bert van Marwijk’s men can make up ground when they travel to East Timor on Tuesday and Malaysia in March.
As such, the UAE will be banking on star striker Ahmad Khalil – who scored four goals against East Timor to become the leading goalscorer in the Asian Football Confederation qualifying section with nine strikes – to fire alongside the equally prolific Ali Mabkhout.
Ali will also be boosted by the return of his most gifted player, the playmaker Omar Abdul Rahman, from suspension.
He continued: “The third advice is to increase the focus throughout the game and implement my instructions carefully, especially with the changes that take place during the game. The fourth advice is we need patience to break down the Malaysian defence.”
The president of the UAE Football Association, Yousuf Al Sarkal, repeated Ali’s mantra of focus in a statement.
“The players need good focus and to forget about the 10-0 result,” he said. “This game will not be easy but we have to win it and all the remaining matches to achieve our goal of reaching the second stage of the qualifiers to qualify for the World Cup.”
Tuesday’s encounter, which will be played behind closed doors at the King Shah Alam Stadium in Kuala Lumpur due to crowd trouble during the September clash with the Saudi Arabia, will kick off at 4.45pm UAE time. Earlier in the day, the Saudis will play bottom side East Timor in Brunei.
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