x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Fitness tests crucial for UAE

Khalil and Awana face late checkups but Mahdi Ali, the coach, says confidence is high for today's semi-final with South Korea.

The UAE team training yesterday ahead of today’s Asian Cup semi-final clash with South Korea.
The UAE team training yesterday ahead of today’s Asian Cup semi-final clash with South Korea.

Mahdi Ali, the UAE Olympic team coach, is sweating over the fitness of Ahmed Khalil for today's Asian Games semi-final with South Korea in Guangzhou, China.

The Al Ahli striker is struggling to shake off a thigh injury and will have to undergo a late fitness test before he can be named in the starting line-up. Ali is already without Saad Surour, the defender, who has returned home with a knee injury that needs surgery. Mohammed Ahmed, another defender, has not recovered from an injury and has been ruled out. Theyab Awana, the midfielder who has missed the last two games, should be fit.

"Ahmed and Theyab have undergone intense treatment but they still will have to pass a fitness test in the morning of the match," Ali said.

The UAE are already guaranteed a shot at the bronze medal but Ali is setting his sights higher and believes his team have an excellent chance of going all the way in the competition.

"They have got better and better after every game and I would like to think they can carry on this momentum all the way to the end," Ali said. The coach has already masterminded the runs to glory for this group of players in the Under 16 Gulf Cup in 2006, the U19 Asian Cup in 2008 and the U23 Gulf Cup in August. They also reached the quarter-finals of the U20 World Cup in Egypt last year.

"The confidence in the camp is high after the win over North Korea," Ali said. "They are good signs as we prepare for another important game. We didn't have a good first game with Hong Kong [a 1-1 draw] but we have raised the bar from thereafter.

"I am very pleased at the progress of my players. The opposition has become stronger and stronger after every game but my players have shown real character to overcome the odds. This is a very good team."

Ali's players may also hold a psychological edge as South Korea, their opponents, were beaten earlier in the tournament by North Korea, the team the UAE beat, albeit on penalties, in the quarter-final. South Korea were also stretched in their last game before seeing off Uzbekistan 3-1 in extra time, the West Asian nation the UAE beat 3-0 in the group stage.

However, Ali was cautious not to draw too many conclusions from those games.

"The past results won't matter at this stage of the competition," he said. "It is a new game and South Korea are a side never to be taken lightly. They have a lot of experience in this type of competitions and will always be a very hard team to beat. But only one team can progress to the final and I wish it will be us."

Japan meet Iran in the other semi-final.

apassela@thenational.ae

UAE v South Korea, 3pm on Abu Dhabi Sports 1