UAE's Mabkhout in race to be fit for Saudi Arabia game
Ali Mabkhout, the UAE striker, will undergo “an intensive rehabilitation programme” in a bid to be fit for the Whites’ final Asian zone Group A 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifier at home to Saudi Arabia next Tuesday.
As Gulf News reported on Saturday, the Al Jazira forward tore his right hamstring during his side’s 1-1 home draw with Al Hilal in the Asian Champions League last week and has been ruled out of the UAE’s penultimate Group A clash with Palestine at home on Thursday.
Mabkhout subsequently flew to Serbia to see the renowned physiotherapist Mariana Kovacevic, who has treated high-profile players such as Frank Lampard and Robin van Persie.
The 25-year-old, who netted five goals in six games as the UAE finished third in last year’s Asian Cup in Australia and who in total has registered an impressive 33 goals in 43 appearances, has now returned home, with a team source saying late on Monday: “The player will join the training camp and be subject to an intensive rehabilitation programme in the coming days in the hope of making a full recovery to be fit for the Saudi Arabia match on March 29.”
Meanwhile, Mabkhout’s fellow striker, Esmail Mattar, is expected to be fit for Thursday’s game against Palestine at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium, despite missing last Friday’s 6-1 friendly thrashing of Bangladesh at Zayed Sports City with a muscle injury.
Mattar, the Al Wahda frontman, has not played for the Whites since the 1-0 Gulf Cup victory over Oman in November 2014 but fully deserves the chance to add to his 112 caps, coach Mahdi Ali insisted last week.
The Al Nasr striker, Salem Saleh, proved an able deputy for the illustrious pair against Bangladesh, scoring twice after coming on as a substitute — matching the feat of Esmail Al Hammadi.
The UAE need to win both their final qualifiers to stand any chance of progressing to the final qualifying stage as pool winners. The eight group winners automatically advance, together with the four best runners-up.
Yousuf Al Sarkal, the UAE Football Association President, on Tuesday issued a rallying cry as the Whites strive to reach their second World Cup after Italia ‘90.
In a statement on the UAE FA website, he said: “We have a unique generation of players, administrators and technical staff, who have had important achievements before. I am confident that they realise the importance of this stage, the extent of the next game’s sensitivity and its impact on the history of UAE football. The next game against Palestine requires high concentration and the players need to respect the opponent.
“We are all hoping the stands of the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium are filled with the masses.”
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