Tuesday's match against Kuwait was UAE's final rehearsal before they fly out to Oman for the defence of their Gulf Cup title. Unfortunately - and to the chagrin of their coach Dominique Bathenay - some players took the word "friendly" too literally and came out for a stroll in the park.
The result was a 0-0 draw and Bathenay was not too pleased about it. "During the first 20 minutes of the game the team was sleeping," the Frenchman said. "Some of the players did not approach the game correctly. They did not try hard enough and play as well as they can, that is why we were a bit slow to start. "It was different in the last game against Iraq. The players were fighting and showed more spirit. We did not see that at all in the opening half hour of this game."
To bring the team out of their slumber, Bathenay introduced his two battle-hardened veterans Mohammed Omar and Abdulsalaam Jumaa besides Haidar Ali Alo. The trio upped the ante and created numerous chances, but UAE failed to break down Kuwait's dogged and crowded defence. The inability to score, however, was not a concern for the Bathenay, though the UAE have been a bit goal-shy from the start of this season. "I am not worried that we did not score," he said. "We just have to continue working hard.
"The spirits are high. We just need to work on a few minor details and find consistency in our performances." The positives from the game were, yet again, Omar's bristling runs upfront and Abdulsalaam's solidity in the middle. "They certainly bring a lot to the team," Bathenay said. "They have the experience and their presence in the middle is uplifting. They bring leadership to the team and are a guide to the other players.
"I just wish we had brought them in earlier, especially since we have such a large number of youngsters who could have gained from their rich experience." The Whites will leave for Muscat on Jan 2, in a private jet provided by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE. They will open their defence against Yemen on Jan 5 before squaring off against Qatar (on Jan 8) and Saudi Arabia (on Jan 11).
Yemen are the minnows of the tournament and getting three points in the opening game will be critical to UAE's chances. "We have to really focus hard on the first game against Yemen, because they usually make a strong start," Abdulsalaam said. "So we will have to fight harder than them to get the three points. If we get those three points in the first game, things will be a lot smoother for us." Abdulraheem Jumaa is confident UAE will be in the groove by the time they take the field against Yemen.
He said: "We did our best [against Kuwait] and I am sure that we will be ready for the first game against Yemen." email@example.com