x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Chance for Mahdi Ali ‘to experiment a few things’ with UAE football

The first priority is to beat Uzbekistan in Asian Cup qualifier on Tuesday but coach may also try out new players, writes Amith Passela.

Mahdi Ali, the UAE head coach, watches his team train in Tashkent on Tuesday. Al Ittihad
Mahdi Ali, the UAE head coach, watches his team train in Tashkent on Tuesday. Al Ittihad

Even though the game is a dead rubber, Mahdi Ali, the UAE coach, is not allowing his team to take it easy when they face Uzbekistan in the Asian Cup Group E qualifier tonight at the Bunyodkor Stadium in Tashkent.

The UAE are on 15 points and have already secured their passage to Australia along with second-placed Uzbekistan (10) in a group that also includes Hong Kong (4) and Vietnam (0).

“We want to continue our run of successful results and we want to win this game,” Mahdi Ali said as his team tries to extend their unbeaten run of 19 matches.

“As both teams have already qualified for the Asian Cup, this game provides us a chance to see some attacking football and to experiment a few things.

“I have called up four new players for the match and it is a big challenge for them and I hope it will be good motivation for them. I would assume Uzbekistan will also have some changes with some young players.”

Mohammed Yousuf and Ahmed Khamis, both from Sharjah, Al Dhafra’s midfielder Bandar Al Ahbabi and Al Wasl’s Mohammed Nasser are the four new faces in Mahdi Ali’s squad.

“The result is important too for us and therefore we will not make many changes but field a balanced line-up,” Mahdi Ali said without elaborating on the opportunity he may give the newcomers. “We will try to provide everyone with a playing opportunity.

“Most of our players are young with an average age of 24 years. They are very experienced, though, having been together for the last nine years. They have played more than 50 games together.”

Mirdjalal Kasimov is looking to avenge his team’s defeat in their first meeting in March last year.

“The UAE are a strong team and they have been growing for several years. We played well in the away game, but we lost,” the Uzbek coach said. “It is still the start of the new season in Uzbekistan, but we will try to achieve a victory.”

apassela@thenational.ae

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