DUBAI // Dominique Bathenay had only one complaint about the UAE's performance in Saturday's friendly against Iraq: their inability to stay focused till the last second of the game. Five minutes away from what would have been a well deserved win, the UAE conceded a corner which was headed home by Ali Hussain to give Iraq a 2-2 draw.
"Our biggest problem has been the inability to concentrate right through the end," said Bathenay. "Proof of that was the corner, which allowed Iraq to score the late equaliser. "This has been our bother for a long time, and we need to work harder to correct that. We also made a few other mistakes in positioning, especially at set pieces where the players did not follow the instructions given to them.
"But mistakes happen. On the positive side, Iraq did not get many chances to score and that shows our defence did a very good job." The UAE coach will be hoping to correct the chinks in the armour when the his team takes on Kuwait at Al Wasl tonight, in their last friendly game before they kick off their Gulf Cup defence in Oman on Monday. "This is our final game before the start of the Gulf Cup, so it is really important in terms of our preparation for the tournament; putting the final touches to our plans and ironing out the flaws," he said.
"We will be giving opportunities to the players who did not play in the game against Iraq. So six players who started against Iraq will not be playing this game. "Our emphasis will be on getting a good performance from the players and this game will give the technical staff a better picture on deciding the team that we will field in the tournament." Bathenay used two systems against Iraq - 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 - and he will continue that experiment tonight.
"It is always good to be able to play with two systems," he said. "You have to be flexible and keep our options open. We need to go into every game with a Plan A and B, and adapt according to the needs of the situation." The real work for the coach will, however, start after the end of the game against Kuwait. "We have another week before the kick-off," said the Frenchman. "So our focus will be on working hard to raise the degree of our readiness, improve our level of consistency and ensure that technical instructions are heeded.
"There is a lot of optimism in the team, which means a greater motivation to play at their best and put up a strong show at the Gulf Cup, especially since we are going in as the defending champions. "We will need single-minded focus and a high discipline in the coming days before we leave for Oman." The game will also be crucial for Kuwait after their troubled preparation for the Gulf Cup. They were banned by Fifa because of government interference in the functioning of the Kuwait Football Association (KFA).
The ban was temporarily lifted on Dec 22 to allow Kuwait to participate in the Gulf Cup and the AFC Asian Cup qualifying. "The match against the UAE will be a good preparation for us," said Abdul Latif al Rashdan, chairman of the technical committee of the KFA. "We should take advantage of this game to solve any problems we might still have in the team." Yemen, one of the UAE's opponents in Group B in Oman, recorded a narrow 1-0 win over Zimbabwe in a friendly match on Tuesday. The striker Ali Al Nono scored the only goal of the game after 32 minutes to steer Mohsen Saleh's side to victory. Yemen will continue their preparations with another friendly against Zimbabwe before heading to Muscat.