The AFC Asian Cup 2019 in the UAE, starting on January 5, which features 24 best Asian nations, was a tournament that Oman’s star Ali al Habsi was really keen to play.
But Habsi’s dreams of leading Oman at the Asian Cup was dashed on Monday night when he was ruled out of the tournament due to a muscle tear on his left thigh, picked while playing for Al Hilal in the Saudi Professional League last week. The Oman Football Association (OFA) announced his withdrawal from the squad on Monday night on its official Twitter handle.
With less than a week away from celebrating his 37th birthday (December 30), the goalkeeper may well have to finish with participation in three Asian Cups (2004, 2007 and 2015). With the next edition scheduled only in 2023, it is unlikely to see him in the squad.
Speaking on his arrival in Muscat on Tuesday, Habsi said, “It is the worst possible feeling for any player to miss a big tournament due to an injury. I was looking forward to represent Oman at the Asian Cup finals, but the injury will take three to four weeks to heal. I have all trust in my teammates and I wish them all the best and hope they achieve success.”
Habsi will soon leave for Riyadh to join his club, Al Hilal, where he will be undergoing treatment and recovery.
In his first remarks after the national team’s decision to drop Habsi, national coach Pim Verbeek told Muscat Daily from Abu Dhabi, UAE, on Tuesday, “It is a big blow to Ali and for us. Ali arrived here in the UAE injured after a Saudi Professional League game between Al Hilal and Al Ahli last week. We knew that there is something of concern with his fitness and on Monday when we received the MRI report, we were all disappointed.”
The Dutchman said, “It is a blow, first of all for Ali himself, as he was looking forward to the Asian Cup finals. It is bad for him and for us as we lose a very experienced goalkeeper.
“But, we have to move on and we are lucky to have three or four good goalkeepers. We have the possibility of using Faiz (al Rusheidi) and Ahmed Faraj al Rawahi. And, we also called up the young and promising goalkeeper from the Olympic team, Ammar al Rashidi, to join us. We have to keep on going.
“We have to get ready for our next game, a friendly against India on Thursday. Hopefully, it will be the last injury to our players before the Asian Cup.”
Meanwhile, Jassim al Shukaili, the OFA vice president and head of the national teams’ committee, said, “Ali al Habsi is among the most influential players and captain of the team. To lose him due to a thigh injury is a big setback. I wish Ali a speedy recovery and the nation prays for his early return to action.”
By Ashok Purohit
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