ABU DHABI // Rashid Amir, the UAE coach, is hoping the words of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, will help inspire his side to reach the knockout stages at the Fifa Under 17 World Cup.
A day after the team’s 2-1 loss to Honduras, Sheikh Mohammed on Friday hosted the UAE U17 for lunch, as a game against Group A heavyweight Brazil loomed tonight.
“You can’t have better motivation than the encouraging words of Sheikh Mohammed,” Amir said. “He spoke at length to all the players and told them to put the past behind them and look for the matches ahead.”
The UAE face a Brazilian side who thrashed Slovakia 6-1 in their opening game and will start tonight’s match at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium as strong favourites. Amir remains hopeful despite being forced into changes.
Khaled Darwish, the Al Shabab defender, has been ruled out for the remainder of the competition with a damaged knee, and Sultan Al Shamsi, the Al Jazira midfielder, is suspended following his red card against Honduras.
“We had two days to work on the areas we need to improve when we meet Brazil and find suitable replacements for the absent players,” Amir said. “Yes, we have a very tough game, no doubt. We respect Brazil, but we are not scared of them.
“They have a very good offensive formation and we will work on balancing our line-up to counter them.”
The UAE will be regarded as the dark horse by nearly everyone.
“In football, everything is possible,” Amir said. “Obviously, we need a good result from this game and that will be our objective. We will play a positive game and hopefully come out with a good result.”
The UAE still have a chance to reach the last 16 if they finish among the top four of the six teams finishing third in their respective groups.
Regardless of what happens tonight, they will still have a chance of progressing when they face Slovakia in their final group game on Wednesday.
“It is a very hard group, and still we can’t say who will go beyond the group stage,” Amir said. “We haven’t given up hopes. We will fight until the last.”
Looking specifically at the challenge facing them in the shape of Brazil, Amir said: “We have a game plan in place against them.
“Every game is different. Brazil are a different team and we’ll adopt a different strategy to counter their play.”
Looking back to the Honduras defeat, Amir said nerves had played a part in the defeat.
“Our players were a bit nervous against Honduras, because it was their first game in the competition,” he said.
“We also had to play with 10 players for more than an hour. It was a massive setback. Yet we played well under the circumstances and lost only to a goal four minutes from time.”
Brazil wary of UAE’s speed and counter-attack
Alexandre Gallo has urged his Brazil side to keep focus when they play the UAE tonight after an impressive start to the Under 17 World Cup in Group A.
The Brazilians beat Slovakia 6-1 on Thursday and the coach said: “I have told my players not to get carried away from the result of our first game. It was indeed a good result, but we need to play at the same level against the UAE.”
Gallo said he is taking the threat of the UAE seriously. “The UAE players have lot of speed and they are good on the counter-attack,” he said. “So we expect a strong match.”
Gallo was evasive with regard to whether Gabriel, a forward who has signed a professional contract with Santos and was expected to be a major player at the tournament, would feature tonight after sitting with the reserves during the Slovakia game.
Of who would play upfront tonight, the manager simply said, “the best combination”.
Ivory Coast v Uruguay
Having made a strong opening statement of intent with a 7-0 thrashing of New Zealand, Group B leaders Uruguay look to book their place in the last 16 today against Ivory Coast. Forwards Leandro Otormin and Franco Acosta, who both scored twice against New Zealand, will start again today.
Italy v New Zealand
There will be contrasting aims for Italy and New Zealand today. Victory will put Italy, who beat Ivory Coast 1-0 in their opening game, through to the knockout stages. But for New Zealand, it will be about getting respectability back after losing 7-0 to Uruguay on Thursday in Ras Al Khaimah.
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