Mahdi Ali is confident that his new attacking duo of Ismail Matar and Salem Saleh will be as lethal as the recent success he has had with Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil, writes Amith Passela.
ABU DHABI // Mahdi Ali will be missing his most successful attacking duo when his side face Hong Kong on Friday night in an Asian Cup qualifier. Three points will confirm the UAE’s place in the final, in Australia, in 2015.
Ali Mabkhout, who scored a hat-trick against Hong Kong, serves a one-match ban for three yellow cards, and Ahmed Khalil is doubtful to start as he has had only two days in training after returning from an injury.
“I don’t usually speak about the line-up before a match but … we may have to look for other options,” the UAE coach said yesterday.
Mahdi Ali used the Al Wahda pairing of Ismail Matar and Salem Saleh for more than 70 minutes against Philippines in a friendly at the Al Nahyan Stadium last Friday, and each scored a goal in a 4-0 victory.
“They have a good understanding between them as club mates and they did a good job for us against the Philippines. They can be a good option in the attack in this game,” the Emirati manager said.
Al Jazira’s Mabkhout has four goals and Al Ahli’s Khalil two from the eight scored by the UAE in the three Asian Cup matches, all victories, which have propelled them to the top of Group E on nine points.
They meet Hong Kong at the Mohammed bin Zayed stadium in Abu Dhabi, having defeated the east Asians 4-0 away in their meeting on October 15.
“Hong Kong are a good team and have played their away games better than at home. We have prepared well and are ready for them,” Mahdi Ali said.
He chose a warm-up game against the Philippines as he believed they would play similar styles. Kim Pan-gon, Hong Kong’s Korean coach, said they would adopt a defensive strategy tonight.
“We will to try our best to return with one point with strong defending against the UAE,” he said.
“It was a painful experience last time when we lost 4-0. However, after doing an analysis of the last game, I thought we still did well, apart from conceding the goals, and two of those goals were scored in added time.
“We made several mistakes in that game. Our focus since then has been to correct those mistakes. In our home game we tried too hard to score against the UAE but this time we will try to defend more and use the counterattack.”
Hong Kong arrived without playing any warm-up matches as the players were involved in domestic league action.
“We had only the regular team one day in the week for training but I believe my players are in good shape. We respect the UAE but we are not scared to play them,” Kim said.
Hong Kong are third in the group, level on four points with Uzbekistan, whom they meet at home four days later. They trail the Uzbeks by four in goal difference.
Huang Yang, the captain, said they have something to prove after the first meeting against the UAE.
“As a player you just concentrate on the game and give your best,” the midfielder said.
“There are lots of skilful players in the UAE team but we would like to challenge them. We have come here physically and mentally stronger to prove we are a better team.”
Bahrain and Saudi Arabia one win away from advancing
Saudi Arabia and Bahrain could book their 2015 Asian Cup place on Friday night.
Like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, the three-time winners, have a perfect record, and a win at home to Iraq would put them clear of China and Indonesia in Group C.
Bahrain, meanwhile, could also seal their spot amongst the 16 qualifiers with victory over Malaysia after drawing with the south-east Asian side when the teams last met in Kuala Lumpur, in October.
They lead Group D by a point from Qatar, who meet Yemen in the group’s other game.
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