Italian manager wants players to take advantage of whatever game time they can get, starting with Haiti tie on Friday
Alberto Zaccheroni's message to UAE players: Treat every friendly as an official match
Alberto Zaccheroni has urged his “ambitious” UAE team to make the most of every opportunity they have together as he gets set for his opening match in charge.
The Italian, best known in the region for guiding Japan to 2011 Asian Cup success, leads the national team for the first time in action on Friday, when his side take on Haiti at Al Ain's Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium.
Appointed last month, Zaccheroni replaced Argentine Edgardo Bauza, who left the UAE after only four months to take the reins at Saudi Arabia. Zaccheroni's contract runs through to the Asian Cup, staged for the second time in the Emirates, in early 2019.
With the continental competition on home soil the primary target, and no competitive matches until then – they will likely not contest next month’s Gulf Cup in Qatar – the UAE have little time to adapt to their new manager's philosophy.
Both parties met for the first time on Sunday, and have been training every day in the Garden City as they prepare for the hastily arranged match with Haiti. Four days later, the UAE face Asian counterparts Uzbekistan at the same venue.
Given the Asian Cup is 14 months away, and the UAE are the seventh-highest ranked team on the continent, Zaccheroni is understandably eager to maximise whatever time he has with his squad.
“We are facing a great challenge, and we seek to exploit every hour in the current camp and the next camps,” he said. “I am very happy that the players are receptive to the groundwork we’re doing because the road ahead is very long.
“We do not have official matches or tournaments, but only friendly matches, and therefore we have to play those games as if they are official matches. That's why we care about every detail, to strengthen the team and all lines of play as soon as possible.”
Zaccheroni said he has been pleased with the players’ commitment this week. He goes into the double-header against Haiti and Uzbekistan without a number of his senior players, with strikers Ali Mabkhout, Ahmed Khalil and Ismail Matar missing through injury.
Majed Hassan, Ismail Al Hammadi and Hamdan Al Kamali are long-term absentees, prompting Zaccheroni to call up a selection of fresh faces, including Ali Salmeen, Mohammed Jamal, Jassim Yaqoub and Khalifa Mubarak.
There was some good news, though, with star playmaker Omar Abdulrahman training with the team at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Wednesday night after suffering an injury on Monday and then sitting out the following day’s session.
UAE train ahead of Haiti game
Despite the absentees, Zaccheroni likes what he has seen thus far.
“Certainly, the players have the enthusiasm to give their best and in the future they will definitely be better,” he said. “I am happy with the players and what they offer in training.
“What I see is seriousness and concentration, and if the players continue to do so, it will shorten the distance needed to reach our desired goals. I have great ambition with the team, and I’m happy because the players also have great ambitions.”
At 56th in the Fifa world rankings, Haiti sit 16 places above the UAE, suggesting Zaccheroni’s debut will not be necessarily straightforward.
The former AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus manager, who spent four years with Japan from 2011 and then an ill-fated five months last year with China's Beijing Guoan, says he is seeking future friendlies against elite-level opposition from Asia.
“The best games are with all the teams in Asia, whether East Asia or West,” Zaccheroni said. “We will not leave anything to chance, no matter who we meet in the friendly games.
“But what I care about only is that my team has a personality and identity of its own, and more importantly how the UAE will play. We will focus on ourselves and how to be at the top so that we can provide the best performance on the pitch.”