A confident-looking Oman football team arrived in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on Saturday morning for next month's continental showpiece – AFC Asian Cup. The 17th edition of the Asian Cup, which features 24 teams, will be held from January 5-February 1.
Led by Dutchman Pim Verbeek, the 26-member squad along with coaching and support staff, was received by H E Dr Khalid bin Said al Jaradi, Oman's Ambassador to the UAE, at the airport.
Verbeek will announce his final 23-member squad on Wednesday for the Asian Cup, a day before the Red Warriors take on India in a friendly. The Indian team was the first to arrive for the tournament, landing in Abu Dhabi, on Thursday.
Oman will be making its fourth appearance in the prestigious tournament, having earlier competed in 2004, 2007 and 2015. During the past three editions, Oman had failed to advance from the group stage and Verbeek's goal will be to achieve it this time.
Having led Oman to Gulf Cup glory in January this year, the Dutchman, who has in the past led Australia to the 2010 World Cup, will hope his men get off to a winning start. Oman is clubbed with former champions Japan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in Group F at the 2019 Asian Cup.
It begins its campaign on January 9 with a match against Uzbekistan, a game that Verbeek said is “key” to Oman's progress to the knockout stage.
“The opening game is crucial and I hope we make a winning start. Uzbekistan is a tough and a much-experienced side but our boys have prepared well and I have confidence in them,”
Verbeek told Muscat Daily recently. “The win in opening game would boost our hopes of qualification to next round. We need a minimum of four points to advance and a victory in opening game will make things easier for us,” the coach added.
Following the match against Uzbekistan, Oman takes on Japan on January 13 and concludes its league engagement with a match against Turkmenistan on January 17.
Ahead of the Asian Cup, Oman will play three warm-up friendly games, beginning with a match against India on December 27. Oman then takes on Asian Cup defending champion Australia on December 30 before concluding its preparatory camp in Abu Dhabi on January 2 with a match against Thailand.
Oman had last week concluded its domestic camp in Muscat with back-to-back wins against Tajikistan.
Habsi in injury scare
Meanwhile, Oman's captain and goalkeeper Ali al Habsi had a minor injury scare during Al Hilal’s match against Al Ahli in the Saudi Premier League game on Friday. Playing for Al Hilal, which won the match 4-3 against Al Ahli, Habsi was substituted in the 69th minute of the match, with Hilal leading 3-1.
Habsi, later tweeted that he is ok and its a minor injury. “I wish that its a minor injury and I am hopeful for positive results of my medical tests,” he said.
Habsi flew in to Abu Dhabi late on Saturday night to join the Oman team ,which had a light training session in the evening.
By Ashok Purohit
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