Ali defends his record as Baniyas coach
Mahdi Ali, the outgoing Baniyas coach, turned his attention to the UAE Olympic team yesterday, but not before defending his record against suggestions that he deserved little credit for Baniyas' second-place finish in the Pro League.
Ali joined Baniyas in April after Lofti al Banzarti was dismissed. Under his leadership, Baniyas held on to second place with three wins and three draws in eight games.
"There are some people who have said I did not contribute anything because I came so late in the season," he said. "But they forget that the team were on the way down when I arrived and I sent them upwards again.
"I changed the training and the formation of the team, which brought us a lot of good results. We played good football in my time here."
Under Ali, Baniyas secured their runners-up place behind Al Jazira and a spot in next season's Asian Champions League.
"We had Al Jazira in my first game as coach and we drew with them when we deserved to win that game," Ali said.
"We would have beaten the champions but bad referee decisions cost us. So I got the better of the champions. I have done my best at Baniyas to make them a better team."
Ali and the Olympic team leave today for China for a training camp ahead of their London 2012 qualifier against North Korea in Pyongyang on June 19.
"It is the hope of the whole country that we play in the Olympics and my ambition too," said Ali, who has led the squad to a maiden Asian Under 19 title in 2008, the U23 Gulf Cup in Qatar and a first ever Asian Games silver medal in China, both last year. They also reached the last eight in the U20 World Cup in Egypt in 2009.
"This team has a lot of quality and I don't see any reason why they can't create a piece of history by becoming the first team to play in an Olympics. They have been together for nearly eight years, which is a very long time, and I believe it is a big advantage, particularly as they have had a lot of success.
"I am very hopeful of a good result from this opening match. I also believe in good preparation and that's why we are travelling early to China so we can adapt quickly and be ready for our first game."
The UAE play Hong Kong in a friendly in China on June 12 and travel to Pyongyang two days ahead of the qualifier. The return leg is in Al Ain on June 23.
Another coach on his way out of the Pro League, Al Ahli's Abdulhameed al Mishtiki, who replaced David O'Leary on an interim basis, pleaded with officials to rethink the season's schedule.
"You cannot ask young players to compete in these conditions we have right now. It is very hot and they are so tired after a long season," he said.
"The season is too long. They played maybe 30 matches, here and outside the country, and it takes a lot out of them, especially when they are asked to perform in such high temperatures.
"On Sunday night, my players had to drink five bottles of water when they go into the dressing room at full time. It's too much."
* Additional reporting by Amith Passela