Alberto Zaccheroni insists UAE players 'ready to win the Gulf Cup'
Pim Verbeek says his squad ready for 'big derby' and are 'desperate to take the cup back to Oman'
Alberto Zaccheroni says his UAE players embrace the responsibility of delivering Gulf Cup of Nations success when they meet Oman in Friday’s final in Kuwait.
The national team, bidding for a third regional crown, take on Pim Verbeek’s side in a repeat of the 2007 showpiece, when the UAE triumphed on home soil to capture the title for the first time.
The pair have much more recent history, though, with Zaccheroni guiding his players to a 1-0 victory in their opening group game two weeks ago. Since then, the UAE have failed to score and relied on penalties to coming through Tuesday’s semi-final against Iraq.
Oman, meanwhile, have won their three matches since the UAE defeat, leaving Zaccheroni in little doubt as to the test that awaits his charges at the Jaber Al Ahmad International Stadium in Kuwait City.
“Our ambition is very high,” the Italian said. “The players are ready for the final. The match will be tough and we respect the Omani national team very much, because they have given a great performance in their previous matches and deserve to be in the final.
“They have been one of the best teams in the tournament and have played at a strong level. But I trust in our players and they are confident they can win the game. They accept the responsibility. I am very happy because we are in the final. We are ready to win the game, and ready to win the Gulf Cup.”
Zaccheroni confirmed the UAE have no fresh injury concerns for the final, but added that he still needed to assess the squad during their final training session on Thursday.
The former Japan national team manager, appointed only in mid-October, is expected to field largely the same side who began the semi-final, with Omar Abdulrahman and Ahmed Khalil likely to partner Ali Mabkhout in attack.
The front three should be enough to guarantee goals, although they have remained hard to come by for the UAE throughout their time in Kuwait. They do, however, boast the best defence in the competition and have yet to concede.
Asked on Thursday if he believes the UAE can secure the trophy while adopting the Italian Catenaccio style of football, Zaccheroni countered: “The Italian and the UAE national teams are different. We’re not a defensive team: I am focused on striking a balance between the defensive and offensive performance. I know we have not scored goals, but I aim to build a strong team who can score a lot.
“However, I’m more interested in the performance because that will lead to us scoring. If we play better in the final, there will be goals. Most important for me is creating opportunities.”
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Zaccheroni's opposite number, Verbeek, insists last month's 1-0 defeat to the UAE will have little impact on Friday’s final. The Oman manager helped his side rebound from the opening reverse to register victories against Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and the Dutchman declared the 2009 champions are ready to give “more than 100 per cent” to clinch the cup.
“I know we lost the first match, but it was by far our best match,” Verbeek said. “Emirates knows that also. We have won the last three matches, so we are confident we can do the job.
“It will not be easy. I’m sure Emirates will stay the same because there are no easy games any more. You have to handle the pressure of winning the Gulf Cup, because in the end it’s all about winning. If you want to be famous in football in the Middle East you have to win the Gulf Cup once in your life, and that’s what my players are going to try to do.
“Of course we are looking forward to play the final, especially against the Emirates because everybody knows for Omani fans, Omani people, it’s the big derby. Emirates were a little surprised in the first match in the way we played, but I’m absolutely sure they won’t be surprised for the final.
“It will be a very interesting match to see how we deal with the pressure, because there’s pressure, of course. If you’re in the final you want to win the final. Everybody told me the Gulf Cup is the World Cup for the Middle East. And we’re all desperate to take the cup back to Oman.”
Updated: January 4, 2018 03:59 PM