x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Gulf Cup: UAE coach Mahdi Ali is thinking out of box

Tactics such as deploying the Abdulrahman brothers in the first XI and using Ismail Matar as the 'energy guy off the bench' in the Gulf Cup opener worked wonders for the national team.

Omar Abdulrahman, centre, has been found to work well with his brother Amer in tandem. Courtesy UAE Football Association
Omar Abdulrahman, centre, has been found to work well with his brother Amer in tandem. Courtesy UAE Football Association

Mahdi Ali made three interesting and perhaps precedent-setting line-up decisions ahead of the UAE's 3-1 Gulf Cup rout of Qatar.

One was the coach deploying Omar Abdulrahman and Amer Abdulrahman in the first XI. Injuries meant they were never available to play in the same Olympic team last year, giving rise to the notion that they perhaps were not compatible.

Each is a small, highly skilled player who can hold the ball in a crowd but cannot be expected to make numerous physical challenges in a match. Could the rest of the side pick up for them in defence?

Result: Omar and Amer were complimentary players. Each worked with the other to give the UAE long stretches of possession and Khamis Esmael, the big defensive midfielder, showed he could hold the fort.

The second decision: combining the forwards Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkhout. Heretofore, it was Khalil who was the front-runner, with Ismail Matar slightly withdrawn. Mabkhout, however, has shown at Al Jazira he is very much in form, and his dashes forward now seem more incisive than those of Khalil. The result: a goal for Mabkhout, a near miss for Khalil and a sense that Matar, at 29, may now be an "energy guy off the bench".

The third choice: Mohammed Ahmed with Hamdan Al Kamali in central defence, with Walid Abbas on the bench. The result: a semi-controversial penalty allowed by Ahmed, but a goal scored, and a sense that Abbas has given way to the London 2012 duo.

Permanent moves? We should know by the time this Gulf Cup is over.

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