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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Al Nasr manager Cesare Prandelli 'certain' Alberto Zaccheroni will succeed with UAE national team

Italians know each other well from their time in Serie A, with Zaccheroni last week recruited as the national team manager.

Alberto Zaccheroni, right, alongside UAE FA president Marwan bin Ghalaita during the Italian's introductory press conference. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Alberto Zaccheroni, right, alongside UAE FA president Marwan bin Ghalaita during the Italian's introductory press conference. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Al Nasr manager Cesare Prandelli has backed compatriot Alberto Zaccheroni to prove a success with the UAE national team.

Zaccheroni, 64, was last week confirmed as Edgardo Bauza’s successor on a 16-month deal and given the clear remit of a strong showing at the 2019 Asian Cup.

With the tournament taking place in the Emirates, the UAE Football Association have set the target of reaching the final for only the second time and first since 1996. Zaccheroni’s contract runs through to the conclusion of the Asian Cup, although there exists an option to renew.

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Prandelli, the former Italy manager, knows Zaccheroni well from their time together in their homeland, with both spending significant stints in charge of various clubs in Serie A in the late 90s and up until the latter was appointed Japan manager in 2010. In 1998/99, Zaccheroni led AC Milan to the Scudetto while Prandelli was with Verona.

Zaccheroni has also enjoyed success at international level, guiding Japan to the Asian Cup title in 2011 and then to the 2014 World Cup. He resigned after the tournament in Brazil.

Zaccheroni did not consult Prandelli before accepting his latest role with the UAE, but the pair has plans to meet in the near future.

“Yes we spoke over the phone and we will surely meet as soon as we both have a free day,” said Prandelli, who was installed this summer as Nasr manager. “The impression I got is that he is very enthusiastic and he’s ready to work and work hard during this period.

“Because, as I know him, I’m sure he’s been thinking a lot and that's why he took it, so I’m certain he is ready to improve the national team.”

The UAE are seeking to recover from their failed attempt to make next summer’s World Cup. The national team finished fourth in their group last month, one place outside the play-off spot, and behind Japan, Saudi Arabia and Australia. The UAE have qualified for a global finals only once before, in 1990.

Appointed in May, Bauza was in place for three competitive matches before last month taking charge of Gulf neighbours Saudi Arabia to lead their World Cup campaign. Zaccheroni always figured prominently on the FA’s list of candidates to succeed the Argentine, but he has little more than one year to ready the team for the Asian Cup.

Some have questioned the appointment, given Zaccheroni has been out of management since May last year. Then, the former Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus manager was dismissed from Chinese Super League side Beijing Guoan after five months. During that time, the club won two of their nine matches.

However, Prandelli says his fellow Italian’s CV is good enough to suggest the UAE have the right man in place now.

“I believe he had very important experiences in his past career,” Prandelli said. “If I’m not mistaken, he spent four years in Japan and the results were very, very positive. Therefore I really think he’s ready for this challenge.”

Juventus and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Miguel Medina / AFP
Juventus and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Miguel Medina / AFP

Meanwhile, Prandelli spoke highly of Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. The Italian, 39, announced on Wednesday that he will retire at the conclusion of the season unless his club win the Uefa Champions League, bringing down the curtain on a 23-year professional career.

A World Cup winner in 2006, Buffon was Prandelli’s goalkeeper during the latter’s four years with the national team from 2010. Buffon formed an integral part of his side that reached the 2012 European Championship final. He is expected to represent Italy at next summer’s World Cup should they negotiate their play-off with Sweden next month.

“There have been a lot of articles and words speaking about him,” Prandelli said. “From my perspective, I consider myself very lucky that I was training him for four years with the national team.

“I always say that every time he and Andrea Pirlo were coming to the training facilities of the national team, they were always great examples for all the young players. Even if he’s 40 he’s still very enthusiastic, continuously working hard and wanting to improve himself, and very, very serious on the pitch.

“So honestly, I hope he will continue because [Dino] Zoff won the World Cup with the national team after he was 40.”