Alberto Zaccheroni bullish on UAE's 2019 Asian Cup prospects despite Ismail Ahmed injury worry
Al Ain's captain has been struggling with a calf injury in build-up to Saturday's opening game of the tournament at Zayed Sports City Stadium
Ismail Ahmed is a late fitness worry for the UAE as they prepare to kick off the 2019 Asian Cup against Bahrain on Saturday night at Zayed Sports City Stadium.
The Al Ain captain is suffering from a calf problem and while he trained with the rest of the squad on Thursday, his participation in the opening Group A clash, which starts at 8pm after an opening ceremony, is in doubt according to manager Alberto Zaccheroni.
The Italian told a news conference on Friday: "He has been undergoing treatment with the team physician and joined the team training for the first time on Thursday.
“We will have another look at him tonight in our final training session and then take a decision on him. Otherwise, we have the full squad ready for the action against Bahrain.”
Despite a troubled build-up which saw the side lose their influential midfielder Omar Abdulrahman to a knee injury, Zaccheroni believes his team are well set up for their bid to win the competition for the first time after finishing third in Australia in 2015.
They were runners-up at the Gulf Cup 12 months ago, their most recent competitive action, and the 65 year old said: "Since then, the Asian Cup hosted by the UAE has been our main objective and we are all waiting for to achieve an outstanding performance.
“The preparation has gone very well. We have had camps both in the UAE and abroad, and have received all the support that we can possibly get from the management.
“Of course, we have had some injury problems to some key players but we are not going to take that as an excuse for poor performances in this championship.”
Zaccheroni led Japan to the Asian Cup title in 2011 but he believes a lot has changed in the footballing landscape on the continent since then.
“The performance of the teams has changed a lot since the last time I managed a team in the Asian Cup,” said the Italian.
“Watching the Asian teams in the 2018 World Cup I can see a lot of improvement in them and many of those teams are in the Asian Games. My guess is, the winner will win on small details.
“As a coach as I said before, I started working with UAE was one year ago. we didn’t play big games but we played in the Gulf Cup and reached the final.
“The team has improved and there is a big change compared to the last time the UAE took part in the Asian Cup.”
Updated: January 4, 2019 07:21 PM