DUBAI // Qualifying for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia and the 2018 World Cup in Russia are top of Mahdi Ali's agenda, but the UAE national football team coach says the UAE will not go to the Gulf Cup in Bahrain just for a "walk" but to regain the title they won on home soil in 2007.
The Gulf Cup begins on January 5, with the UAE starting their Group A engagements against Qatar on the opening day. They will meet Bahrain on January 8 before taking on Oman three days later in their final match of the first round.
The champions Kuwait are in Group B with Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the second stage.
Mahdi Ali, who has announced a list of 23 players for a training camp in Qatar, is convinced his team can make the knockout stages from their group and go all the way to the final on January 18. He noted that the Football Association "has set targets for the future, the first of which is to qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia and then reach the 2018 World Cup," Mahdi Ali told the FA website.
"This does not mean we will be going to Bahrain for a walk because any team taking part in such a tournament is hoping for a win and a good performance. So the Gulf Cup is a station for us to reach our higher goals.
"Of course, it is very difficult to make predictions in the Gulf Cup because every team, with the exception of Yemen, is at the same level. That makes the Gulf Cup such a special event."
The team will assemble after the end of the President's Cup round-of-16 matches and leave on Saturday for Qatar, where they play two friendly matches – against Yemen on December 26 and Tajikistan three days later.
Mahdi Ali would have liked at least one more friendly match, and the man who guided UAE to their first appearance at an Olympic Games earlier this year, is not happy with the time he is getting to prepare the team for the Gulf Cup.
"If we get enough time to prepare, this team is well equipped to perform the way we expect them to," he said. "I wish I had a longer period to prepare the team and play a greater number of friendly matches since many of our players are not involved regularly with their club teams. It takes time to get them in shape, to prepare them. It's a time-consuming process.
"But instead of three friendly matches, we will be playing two as our preparation period has been slashed by five days due to the scheduling of local competitions."
Meanwhile, the UAE rose 13 spots to No 96 in the Fifa world rankings, released today, buoyed by a 2-1 victory last month over the Uefa side Estonia, the senior team’s highest position since September 2010, when they were No 90. Thus, the UAE finish 2012 ranked 42 slots above the January place of No 138, worst in UAE history.
Beyond defeating Estonia, who were ranked No 83 when they played the Emiratis, the UAE’s Fifa ranking also was aided by the depreciation of the impact of defeats to South Korea and Kuwait in World Cup qualifiers in November 2011.
The Fifa formula includes all international matches over a period of four years, with the older results having less of an impact than the more recent.
The UAE are now No 10 among Asian Football Confederation nations, one position behind Oman and two ahead of Qatar. Coincidentally, those two nations are in the UAE’s group at the Gulf Cup next month.
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