First game for the Italian since taking over as coach from Edgardo Bauza is on Friday against Haiti in Al Ain.
Walid Abbas: UAE players impressed with early work of new coach Alberto Zaccheroni
UAE defender Walid Abbas says the players have been impressed with new manager Alberto Zaccheroni during their first week training together.
The Italian, appointed last month as Edgardo Bauza’s successor, met with the national team on Sunday ahead of his debut in Friday’s friendly against Haiti in Al Ain. The UAE play also Uzbekistan next Tuesday.
Given a contract through to the 2019 Asian Cup, which takes place in the Emirates, Zaccheroni has been set the target of leading the national team to at least the final.
In 2011, he guided Japan to the trophy. Formerly of AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus, he is the UAE’s second different coach since Mahdi Ali resigned in March after Bauza departed in September after only three games in charge to head up Saudi Arabia's 2018 World Cup campaign.
“First of all, everyone knows he is a new coach so we need time to adapt to him, to the systems he is playing,” Abbas said. “He plays 3-4-3, so it’s a different system for some of the players, especially the young players who maybe don’t know it.
“Of course, it’s difficult when you change coaches. However, it’s not the coach, it’s the system. Bauza played a different system, now Zaccheroni. We need time. It’s difficult for us and the people must know it’s difficult to adapt to the new system.
“But we can tell he’s a good coach. He’s trying to give his best - you can see that from the training. You know the Italian coaches: they need the team to be as a group, play together, defend together and attack together.
“For me, I don’t really know him yet, but he seems like he’s a good person. He likes to work, he has a good personality and he’s respectful. It's good.”
One of the more experienced players in the squad, Abbas said not making next summer’s World Cup in Russia still rankles.
The UAE finished fourth in Group B in September, meaning their wait for a second appearance at a global finals, and first since 1990, continues.
With the Asian Cup only 14 months away, and no competitive matches between now and then, Abbas knows the team must make the most of their limited time together.
“Of course we are disappointed that we did not qualify,” he said. “Everyone wants to go to the World Cup, but this is football.
"It’s a new chance for us. Football is always giving new chances. It’s in our hands. We need to be good for the Asian Cup.
“For sure, there is enough time. It depends on how many games we will play and how strong the games are. I hope that in the close future we know what the coach wants. We want to give our best to get ready for the Asian Cup.
“Everyone has responsibility, even the young players. Because you’re playing for your national team, for your country. As older players, we must motivate the young players for the Asian Cup.”
Abbas said the players have shown in training this week a desire to begin Zaccheroni’s tenure on a positive note, adding: “These two games are so important for us. They’re not like friendlies for us, but like qualification games.
"We must give our best to win to improve the ranking. The players all feel that way.
“As you can see from the training, they are working hard, they are trying their best. Some you can find in the morning in the gym, some of them doing two sessions.
"The coach, assistant coaches and physical coaches want to work and the players are cooperating with them. It’s a good atmosphere.”