Ahmad Khalil confident UAE can defeat Australia

Published March 27th, 2017 - 04:32 GMT
Striker fit after calf injury and insists he and his teammates will not be intimidated by hostile Australian crowd
Striker fit after calf injury and insists he and his teammates will not be intimidated by hostile Australian crowd

Ahmad Khalil has declared himself fit for the UAE’s crunch 2018 World Cup qualifier with Australia in Sydney on Tuesday, and insisted he and his teammates are confident of shocking the Socceroos.

Khalil’s return is a significant boost for the Whites, who sorely missed the burly striker’s physical prowess and goalscoring ability — he is the joint-leading marksman in the Asian qualifiers with 15 goals — in last Thursday’s tepid 2-0 loss to Japan in Al Ain.

He has recovered from a calf injury and will spearhead the UAE’s attack alongside Ali Mabkhout for a game Mahdi Ali’s men must not lose if they are to maintain their World Cup qualifying hopes.

The Whites lie fourth in Group B, with only the top-two teams guaranteed a place at the Russia showpiece, although third place would offer a play-off spot.

Australia are currently third, one point ahead of the UAE, with Saudi Arabia and Japan in first and second respectively — four points ahead of Ali’s side with four games remaining.

The UAE looked weighed down by the pressure of their predicament against the Japanese, but Khalil struck a more upbeat note on Monday.

“I am ready to play after recovering from injury,” the Al Ahli frontman said. “The difficulty is that the game is on Australian soil in front of their legions of fans, but that will give the players greater motivation to achieve a positive result and seek a win. There is no room for negligence at any point in the remaining games.

“All the players are in a state of high concentration, our desire is great for a positive outcome and we will not get caught up in the crowd. We are used to playing in front of big crowds.

“This will not intimidate us and it will increase our determination to deliver a strong performance.”

The UAE have also been buoyed by the return from injury of their towering centre back, Esmail Ahmad, while midfielder Tariq Ahmad is also available after serving a one-match suspension.

Meanwhile, Ali has urged his men to keep their cool in the Allianz Stadium cauldron, a 45,500 capacity arena, and called for greater cohesion after the disjointed and listless display against Japan.

Ali also wants his players to impose their game on Australia, as he believes the Socceroos will play with high tempo from the outset in a bid to fatigue the Whites.

He hopes Australia will become frustrated if they do not score early and believes the UAE can win the midfield battle and prosper from counter-attacks.

But the UAE face a Herculean task to achieve their first win over Australia, who beat the Whites 2-0 in the 2015 Asian Cup en route to success in their home tournament the last time the two countries met.

A defeat could also spell the end of Ali’s five-year tenure, according to some Arabic media reports, although the former engineer insists he is only focused on Australia and not his own future.

“We know it is a very important game for both teams, especially so because of the last results, against Iraq for Australia, and against Japan for UAE,” he said at his pre-match press conference on Monday.

“If we want to keep our chances for this qualification, we have to have a good result to keep our chances until the end.

“I think it is very important to have a positive result, because otherwise even third place will be difficult for us. We are looking forward.”

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