x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Mahdi Ali's men get ready as the in-form hosts drum up large support in crowd numbers.

Mahdi Ali’s UAE team will train in China for two weeks before playing Hong Kong while on a 13-match winning streak. Fadi Al-Assaad / Reuters
Mahdi Ali’s UAE team will train in China for two weeks before playing Hong Kong while on a 13-match winning streak. Fadi Al-Assaad / Reuters

DUBAI // Boasting victories over New Zealand and Trinidad and Tobago in their last two games, the UAE will be high in confidence when they face Hong Kong in two 2015 Asian Cup qualifiers next month, but coach Mahdi Ali has warned against underestimating their opponents.

At the top of their qualifying group with two wins in two games, the UAE will play Hong Kong on October 15 – a surprise second in Group E – before a home encounter four days later.

Hong Kong were reduced to 10 men in the 58th minute of their opening match against Uzbekistan but managed to return home from Tashkent with a point following a 0-0 draw. Next, they beat Vietnam 1-0 to move into second place on the points table.

The UAE beat Vietnam and Uzbekistan by the same 2-1 score.

With British-born players such as striker James McKee and defender Jack Sealy in their ranks, and the recently naturalised Ghanaian striker Godfred Karikari available for selection, Mahdi Ali is not surprised by Hong Kong’s success and expects a tough challenge as the UAE try to keep their 13-match winning streak going.

“They are improving as a team,” Mahdi Ali said yesterday, at a press conference to announce Etisalat’s renewal of their partnership agreement with the Football Association, during which the company sponsor the national team and the President’s Cup for the next three years.

“They played well in the first two games and have four points. They have two England-born players as well, so they are a good side.”

The UAE team will gather on Saturday and travel to China the following day for a two-week training camp, where the team will play friendlies against Laos and Malaysia. They then leave for Hong Kong two days before the game.

Buoyed by their early success in the qualifiers, Hong Kong are clearly banking on a large number of fans watching the game against the UAE.

Officials initially decided to host play at the 6,664-seat Mong Kok Stadium in Kowloon, but it has since been moved to the 40,000-seater Hong Kong Stadium in Wanchai.

“They are looking for more support, so they have moved the match to a bigger stadium with a capacity,” Mahdi Ali said. “I think it is good for us, too. We enjoy playing in front of big crowds. It motivates the players.”

arizvi@thenational.ae