Kuwait are out of the Gulf Cup but the UAE team are well aware that the hosts can play the role of spoiler and ruin their chances of progressing in the tournament.
With the UAE and Saudi Arabia tied on four points each and Oman on three, the Group A final fixtures on Thursday will decide which teams will cement their places in the last four.
UAE will progress if they win against Kuwait but if they lose they will have to hope that Saudi Arabia beat Oman. A loss for UAE and a draw in the Saudi-Oman contest will decide the semi-final line-up on goal difference.
The UAE’s Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni, on the eve of the encounter, warned his wards against complacency.
“Kuwait will want to take their frustration on us and try to finish their campaign with a win to satisfy the home fans. We will have to play in the contest with utmost alertness,” said Zaccheroni adding that the team is not looking for any other option other than a win.
“We are of course going into the game with a victory in mind. It’s our third match and we expect the players to raise their game and play better than the two previous matches.”
The 64-year-old is of the view that their opponents will come out hard against them given the fact that they have nothing to lose and are playing for pride.
“We know we are playing against a side without any pressure but our players are experienced enough and they know how to deal with such situations,” said Zaccheroni, who rated his opposition as a strong team, gaining confidence with every match after their two-year-long absence from the sport following a Fifa ban.
“Kuwait is a strong side even if they have lost both their games, they have played with a lot of heart. However, I’m confident of my players of lifting themselves from the goalless result against Saudi Arabia. If we want to win, we have to score and we will,” said the Italian, whose team were criticised for their inability to get the breakthrough against Saudi Arabia in the previous match.
Zaccheroni’s substitution tactics against Saudi Arabia were also questionable as he chose to make use of his bench strength only towards the final stage of the regulation time.
However, this time round, he didn’t even choose to keep his cards close to his heart and went on to reveal that his side will be dishing out an attacking brand of football. Ace midfielder Omar Abdul Rahman will also be allowed to express himself the way he wants.
“We plan to play an attacking game with two strikers and Omar Abdul Rahman to join them as a third striker,” said the coach.
“He is our playmaker and I’m not going to restrict his game. He’s free to play his own game. He can make all the difference in a side and has the capabilities to turn the game around at any time.
“We haven’t decided on the first XI but will do so in the morning. We still have a training session to decide on the line-up and the roles of the players.”
It will also be interesting to see if the coach prefers to unleash Ahmad Khalil from the beginning. The Jazira striker has been warming the bench for the most part in the tournament and only came on for 10-odd minutes in the last outing. If fitness is still not the issue, Khalil’s introduction at the right time will be the key as he is an impact player like Abdul Rahman.
Kuwait coach Boris Bunjak, meanwhile, sent out the message that his team would not bow out without a fight. “After two losses, we cannot qualify for the semi-finals but the game against the UAE is a very important game for us. We will do our best to get a better result and to finish the competition with a win,” he said.
The action starts at 7.30pm at the Jaber Al Ahmad International Stadium. The Saudis will also be playing their final group fixture against Oman at the same time at Al Kuwait Sports Club Stadium.
By N. D. Prashant
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