Zaccheroni's side beat Oman 1-0 in their opening group game, and striker Khalil says UAE will 'do all our best and come back to our country as the champions'
Ahmed Khalil warns UAE face 'tough game' against Oman in Gulf Cup final
Ahmed Khalil says the UAE will face an altogether different Oman to the one they defeated in their Gulf Cup of Nations opener when the two meet in Friday’s final in Kuwait.
The national team, contesting their first competitive tournament with manager Alberto Zaccheroni in charge, set up this weekend’s showpiece with victory on penalties against Iraq in Kuwait City on Tuesday night. The semi-final had finished 0-0 after extra time, with the UAE holding their nerve to win the shoot-out 4-2.
They must now get past 2009 champions Oman at the same Jaber Al Ahmad International Stadium to seal a third Gulf Cup crown - a repeat of their initial Group A fixture two weeks ago. Then, the UAE triumphed 1-0, thanks to Ali Mabkhout’s first-half penalty.
However, Khalil, who captained the side against Iraq on his return to the starting line-up, expects an ever tougher challenge come Friday.
“Of course, it will be a tough game in the final,” the striker said. “We play against Oman, who we played in the first match, but this is a final, this is different.
"It’s true that we won the first game, but they are so strong, they are fast, they play very well on the counter-attack. We have to concentrate. We have to continue like this, we have to work. It’s just one game.
"We hope every player takes this point: that it is a final, that it’s not the same as every game. We have to do all our best and come back to our country as the champions.”
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The UAE’s run to the final has been a remarkable one considering they are yet to score from open play. Mabkhout’s penalty against Oman is the only goal the two-time Gulf champions – in 2007, when they defeated Oman in the final, and 2013 - have registered in a little more than 390 minutes of football, although conversely, they have yet to concede in the tournament.
Zaccheroni, 64, has been criticised in some quarters for being too defence-minded, but Khalil is urging calm. Appointed as Edgardo Bauza's successor in mid-October, the Italian has been with the national team for less than three months.
“We are not worried that the strikers didn’t score in this tournament,” Khalil said. “It’s a new coach, new staff, new tactics and new technical aspects. We have to be patient, we have to wait and understand what the coach wants from all the players.
“We are playing together as one team, both for the defence and attack. We’re not worried and we are confident that we are going to score. For sure, the goals will come.”
Khalil’s call was echoed by teammate Omar Abdulrahman, who was deservedly voted man of the match against Iraq despite his side drawing another blank.
“I’m not the only star in this team - we are as a team, we all help each other,” the UAE playmaker said. “Our target was to reach the final and we have done that. So it’s a new step for us. We have to concentrate. We know the Oman team; we played against them.
“I understand people say the UAE team didn’t play well, but it’s a new tactic, a new style of playing with an Italian coach and we have to understand what he wants from us. We are trying to put into practice what he tells us.
“In the next game we have to correct the mistakes we made in the semi-final and we have to be 100 per cent concentrated. I’m optimistic we’re going to win this trophy and come back to the UAE happy.”