DUBAI // Srecko Katanec, in his first competitive match since taking charge of the UAE six months ago, watched his side stumble into next year's Asian Cup, courtesy of a 1-0 win over Malaysia, before insisting he will not be able to make his mark until he is afforded extended access to his squad.
Last night's Asian Cup qualifier at Al Shabab Stadium was the first official test of the Slovenian's reign and his team left it late. The hosts, despite dominating throughout, needed a 92nd-minute strike from Ahmed Khalil to secure three points against a side they defeated 5-0 in Kuala Lumpur 12 months ago. Katanec has overseen six wins in seven matches since taking the reins in June, but last night's game was his first non-exhibition match. And it was a display he is keen to forget.
"It was not a great performance and, in future, I would like us to score earlier, but we won, which was important and now we have qualified," he said. "Next year, we will see how we do, but I hope I have enough time with the players. I want to be able to train with them for a month, then I can train with them five times a week and learn how they eat, how they sleep, how they breathe - only then will my real work be visible."
The UAE had required a point to ensure qualification for next January's continental showpiece in Doha, but after watching his side struggle to capitalise on their first-half dominance, Katanec introduced Khalil at the break and, together with Mohamed al Shehhi, the young Emirati helped changed the game. "Khalil's goal was great," said Katanec. "I expect a lot from him because he has great quality and a lot of potential, but for me, al Shehhi was the best by far. In the first half he tried hard, but in the second he went one-on-one more often and did super." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org