UAE target two more friendlies ahead of 2019 Asian Cup
Hong Kong, Singapore and Kazakhstan are options, although Malaysia have declined an invitation to meet in Dubai
The UAE will look to play two tune-up matches this month in preparation for the upcoming 2019 Asian Cup.
The national team, hosts for the January 5-Februaury 1 event, meet in Dubai on December 15 for the final of five training camps in the build-up to the continental showpiece, with manager Alberto Zaccheroni keen to arrange two friendlies before the campaign gets under way.
At present, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kazakhstan are options, although Malaysia have declined an invitation to meet in Dubai. December 21 and 28 have been set as provisional dates for the matches – potential opponents are limited since it is not an official Fifa international break - before the UAE move to Abu Dhabi on January 1. They kick off the tournament against Bahrain on January 5 at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium.
Drawn in Group A, the national team face India at the same venue on January 10 and round off the pool against Thailand four days later at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain.
Since the 2019 tournament has been expanded for the first time to 24 countries, the top two teams in the group progress to the knockout stages, together with the four best third-placed sides.
Hosting the Asian Cup for only the second time, the UAE have endured a difficult lead-up to the tournament. Preparations have been disrupted by a number of injury concerns, headlined by Omar Abdulrahman’s absence from the Asian Cup.
The former Al Ain captain tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee playing for Al Hilal in October and continues his long rehabilitation from surgery. On Tuesday, it was confirmed that veteran forward Ismail Matar required surgery on a fractured cheekbone and was subsequently in danger of also missing the event.
Striker Ahmed Khalil, defender Ismail Ahmed and midfielders Khalfan Mubarak and Rayan Yaslam sat out last month’s training camp, although all four are expected for national team duty this month. They have recently represented their respective clubs.
Zaccheroni will be intent of having as many players ready for selection as possible, as the UAE set sights on another run to the final on home soil. In 1996, the only other time the Emirates hosted, the national team finished runner-up, beaten on penalties in the final by Saudi Arabia. It remains their best result in the Asian Cup.
The last time the UAE contested the tournament, four years ago in Australia, they came home third. Australia went on to lift the title and start their defence of the trophy on January 6 against Jordan in Al Ain. Syria and Palestine make up the other teams in Group B.
Updated: December 5, 2018 05:38 PM