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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

UAE manager Alberto Zaccheroni 'happy to qualify' for Gulf Cup final

Emirates seeking a third title when they face Oman in Kuwait City on Friday

Omar Abdulrahman, left, remains key to the UAE but his club future is up in the balance. AFP
Omar Abdulrahman, left, remains key to the UAE but his club future is up in the balance. AFP

Alberto Zaccheroni said his UAE side deserved to go through to the Gulf Cup of Nations final following their last-four victory against Iraq on penalties on Tuesday.

The national team had been held to a goalless draw through 120 minutes of the semi-final at the Jaber Al Ahmad International Stadium in Kuwait City, but eventually prevailed 4-2 in the shoot-out.

Full-back Mohammed Barghash scored the decisive penalty to set up Friday’s showpiece against Oman, where the UAE will be seeking to win a third Gulf Cup crown.

Their progression could have been a lot more straightforward, though, since Zaccheroni’s men created the better of the chances against Iraq. Barghash struck a post in the first half, while Ali Mabkhout sent wide a great opportunity in the final minute of normal time. However, in extra time, UAE defender Mohanad Salem was forced to clear off his own goal line from substitute Alaa Abdul-Zahra's header.

"We played against a strong Iraqi team, who played with determination throughout the first 90 minutes and extra time, and we achieved the important thing in qualifying for the final," said Zaccheroni, who recalled striker Ahmed Khalil to the starting line-up for the first time since the Italian took charge in October. "We have created many opportunities to score.

“I played three attackers, and the Iraqi team had only one chance. The attackers’ performance stood out, although they are still not technically ready, and I have been in place for only little more than two months - a short period. We need more time and work to build a strong team.

“We were in control of the game, playing with balance and creating chances to score. There was a chance when Barghash hit the post. In the second half, we made changes. We performed better and I was very happy with Ahmed Khalil, who started for the first time after a long absence, as well as Ismail Hammadi, who came off the bench and contributed to our improvement in performance.

“And fortunately we had Omar Abdulrahman, who fought fiercely throughout the game.”

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Bidding for a third Gulf Cup title - they won previously in 2007 and 2013 - the UAE now face 2009 champions Oman in the final at the same venue on Friday. The two teams met in their opening match in Group A last month, with the UAE triumphing 1-0 thanks to Mabkhout’s first-half penalty before Oman went on to finish top. Dutchman Pim Verbeek's side defeated Bahrain 1-0 on Tuesday to make the final for a fourth time.

Zaccheroni hopes the additional time his team have played will not catch up with his players come Friday, adding: "We won and we are happy to qualify. We played 120 minutes, which is a big burden on the players as we are trying to get some others back.

“The Omani team is organised and plays a pressing game. But from the first round, there has been a gradual development in our performance - this is important."