x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ali full of praise as UAE face final hurdle

The UAE Olympic team play Japan today in the gold-medal match of the Asian Games, a tournament that saw the national side fall at the group stage in five previous attempts.

The UAE are one win away from the gold medal.
The UAE are one win away from the gold medal.

Mahdi Ali's football prodigies have won three championships in his five years as their coach. Now, they are just 90 minutes from their greatest achievement yet.

The UAE Olympic team play Japan today in the gold-medal match of the Asian Games, a tournament that saw the national side fall at the group stage in five previous attempts.

"It is the players that make everything happen," Ali said. "I just hope they can get over this final hurdle. This is the moment we have been waiting for all along when the Football Association made the Asian Games as the priority ahead of the Gulf Cup in Yemen."

Ali's team have played six matches to reach the final. The past two, a penalty shoot-out victory over North Korea and a last-kick 1-0 victory over South Korea on Tuesday, each ran more than 120 minutes.

It rates as no surprise that fitness and injuries are a concern.

"With the games so closely scheduled, there is no time for the players to recover," Ali said. "We are back to play Japan after one day's rest. Almost all the players are carrying a few niggles, but they are all ready to play despite those injuries. They want to win the final and that's a good approach because they are mentally strong and prepared to go that extra distance."

Ali Kasheif and the UAE defence have been brilliant, conceding only one goal in six matches. The team have struggled to score, though; they played more than two hours before Ahmed Ali scored with the list kick of the South Korea match.

Japan have scored goals in bunches; they beat India 5-0, China and Kyrgystan 3-0 and Malaysia 2-0. They shrugged off a 1-0 deficit to defeat Iran 2-1 in the semi-final.

"Japan have been the most impressive in the competition but they are not dissimilar than the two Koreas we have played," Mahdi Ali said. "It is the last game so I would expect Japan to throw everything they have at us, and we will also play to win. It will be a good and exciting contest, and hopefully we can pull it through."

Ali has coached many of these players as they won the Under 16 Gulf Cup in 2006, the U19 Asian Cup in 2009 and the U23 Gulf Cup in August.

"The team have excelled beyond our expectations," said Mohammed Obaid Hammad, head of the UAE delegation at the Games. "Reaching the final itself is a great achievement but now our dreams have become bigger. We want to win this final."

Meanwhile, at the Gulf Cupthe senior national team were satisfied with their point from the scoreless draw against Iraq."It was a good result for a first game against a strong opponent," Subait Khater, the midfielder, said.

"It was important that we didn't lose the first game."

apassela@thenational.ae