Asian Cup: UAE receive big boost from fan following ahead of quarter-finals
Manager Alberto Zaccheroni touched by social media campaign run by Syrian and Lebanese supporters
The UAE go into Friday's Asian Cup quarter-finals against Australia as one among a handful of undefeated teams left in the tournament.
The hosts topped Group A with five points after beating India and drawing against Bahrain and Thailand. They followed it up with an extra-time win over Kyrgyzstan in the Round of 16.
Reigning champions Australia, meanwhile, suffered a shock loss to Jordan in their Group B opener before bouncing back to defeat Palestine and Syria. It took a penalty shootout for them to go past Uzbekistan in the last 16.
Alberto Zaccheroni's men have home advantage, too. But it is not just Emiratis who will be backing the national team at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain. Their campaign has received a boost from social media, with Syrian and Lebanese fans urging their compatriots to support the 2015 cup semi-finalists at the 25,000-seat capacity venue.
Zaccheroni believes that kind of support combined with the quality and confidence of his players make them a stronger side.
“We all know how important this game is for us as the host nation,” the Italian manager said on Thursday. “Australia are the champions. They are strong opponents and play at a high level. They are also well organised as a team but we are ready to take them on.
“The confidence of my players remain very high after we reached the last-eight stage. Obviously it’s not going to be an easy game but we are well-prepared and ready.”
Zaccheroni said he was grateful for all boost his side have received online. “The fans have been behind us and their support is greatly appreciated by all of us - the players, technical staff and the management," the 65-year-old said.
“No doubt, the presence of the fans in big numbers will be a great motivation for the team. I’m an Italian, but like my players, I have a big responsibility on my shoulders to deliver the result for the fans.”
The UAE will be without injured centre-back Khalifa Mubarak and midfielder Khamis Ismail through suspension. Mubarak is in Germany for surgery on his fractured left leg, while Ismail serves a one-match ban after receiving two yellow cards.
“Injuries and suspensions are not unusual in a long tournament as this, but we have adequate cover for every player that’s not available at some point in the competition,” Zaccheroni said.
“We have 23 players in the squad and they are all ready for a call-up. That’s what I did when I took charge more than a year ago. Every player in the squad must be ready to play their role whenever they are needed.
“So, I know they are all ready to take up any responsibility and perform at the same level.”
Zaccheroni will be remembered as the man who led Japan to the 2011 title win in Qatar, where they beat the Socceroos in the final.
“That Australian team had some significant names, especially players like Tim Cahill,” Zaccheroni said. “Obviously that team cannot be compared with the present side after eight years. The present team are a good side and play compact."
Zaccheroni said the 2019 squad may be short of individual stars, but still a "very strong side".
He was coy about whether the UAE would play a defensive game much like Australia's previous opponents Jordan and Uzbekistan did.
“I respect the strategies of the teams, however, like every other team in the competition we have our own plans to play against Australia,” he said. “We aren’t looking at the past because there are many factors to take into considerations when you analyse the previous matches.
“However, we believe we can score against any opposition and I have the faith on my players to achieve those objectives.”
UAE centre-back Fares Juma, meanwhile, expressed confidence in his team's quality to be able to push for a win.
“The coach has set the game plan for us and we have been working on every aspect to improve our game to achieve the desired result,” Juma said.
Updated: January 24, 2019 08:08 PM