Yousif Abdelrahman, the UAE goalkeeper, says his teammates will have "absolutely no fear" going into tonight's semi-final of the Under 23 Gulf Cup. And he expects their experience will carry them through to the final in Doha. The national side play Qatar in tonight's second semi-final and while Abdelrahman knows the majority of supporters in the Aspire Academy Stadium will be cheering on the host nation, he does not think this will be enough to halt the UAE's progress.
"As a team, I think we are the most experienced in this competition," he said. "We are used to playing in front of bigger and more hostile crowds, having played in the U19 Asian Cup final in Saudi Arabia in 2008 and the U20 World Cup in Egypt last year. "So there is absolutely no fear coming up against the host team in the semis. We don't expect any game to be easy, but I'm pretty confident we can go all the way. I think everyone acknowledges we are one of the favourites along with Oman."
The UAE topped Group B after a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia, the defending champions, followed by a 1-1 draw against Kuwait. Mahdi Ali, the coach, expects further improvement as he believes the team are yet to play to their true potential. "The results have been quite satisfactory, yet not good enough," said Ali. "One of the reasons for it is we are playing on the artificial turf and the players have still not got adapted fully for match situations.
"They need to play more on this surface to really get on top of their game. "I believe the two games we have had so far and the few training sessions, may have helped the players to a great extent ahead of the semi-final. Qatar scraped through to the last four, getting the better of Bahrain 6-5 in a penalty shoot-out after the game finished scoreless during regulation time. They have yet to score in open play in the competition.
Ali is wary of Qatar's threat though, saying: "They will have the experience of playing on this surface more than the other teams. "I can't see them as a weak team. They are capable of bouncing back, now that they have made it into the semis." Ahmed Khalil has so far been the hero for Ali's side. The 2008 Asian Youth Player of the Year scored both the team's goals and will once again lead the attack along with Theyab Awana, the Baniyas forward, with Al Jazira's Ali Mabkhout playing just behind them.
Amer Abdulrahman, the Baniyas youngster, has held the midfield together and has been the driving force in creating the scoring opportunities. He has created both of Khalil's goals in the tournament. Ali did not want to single out any player but admitted Abdulrahman had played an important role. "I am looking at the whole team and it's more about the combination we have on the pitch," Ali said. "Ahmed and Amer have been impressive in the two games, but don't forget the contributions from the other players.
"The defence and the midfield have been quite solid, and that relieved the pressure on the forwards to a great extent. "And I would be certainly looking for a combined team effort against Qatar." Co Adriaanse, Ali's counterpart in the Qatar camp and a former Ajax and Porto coach, feels his team could upset the UAE, as they are yet to hit any kind of form. We managed to reach the semi-final and this is the biggest game for us in the competition," the Dutchman said.
"We are facing a strong opponent, the UAE, but we have not lost hope of reaching the final. "The UAE have been impressive in the two matches but they are not unbeatable. "They have some highly skilled and experienced players in their line-up, but we will go with a plan to upset them." Meanwhile Oman will start as favourites against Kuwait in tonight's first semi-final after marching through the group stage with identical 2-0 victories over Qatar and Bahrain.