The UAE begin their challenge on Friday in Kuwait City as they seek to build towards hosting the 2019 Asian Cup
Zaccheroni confident UAE can make strong start to Gulf Cup campaign against Oman
Alberto Zaccheroni is relishing the challenge of leading the UAE in their first tournament under his leadership as they look to get their campaign at the Gulf Cup off to a winning start on Friday against Oman.
The tournament was moved to Kuwait this month, after being initially scheduled to be held in Qatar, following the country's two-year ban from participating in international football due to government interference being lifted.
The fixtures for the event were only finally confirmed at the start of the week, and the UAE are in Group A along with Oman, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Zaccheroni, who took charge in October, explained the short notice to prepare the squad as “challenging”.
But he said he was happy to have some competitive games from which to assess his squad with one eye to the 2019 Asian Cup, which the UAE are host nation of.
“We have played three friendlies but friendlies remain as friendlies,” the Italian said on Thursday.
“In the friendlies, you learn a few things about the players, their skills, the combinations and correct a few mistakes, but they really aren’t challenges for a team.
“I love the challenges and I love the pressure. I’m really happy to take on the challenge of playing in a tournament, especially as we had to prepare at short notice.”
Zaccheroni’s first game in charge ended in defeat to Haiti 1-0 at the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain on November 11 but they emerged winners over Uzbekistan 1-0 four days later.
In their most recent outing, Zaccheroni’s men overcame Iraq 1-0 in Dubai four days ago.
“Our focus in the Gulf Cup is the first game,” said the former Japan manager, who has also been in charge of Lazio, Juventus and Inter Milan in Italy.
“I look at Omani team as strong with some excellent players. So are the other two, which means we are in a very tough group.
“However, this tournament is an opportunity to learn about the capabilities of the players and their readiness for the official matches, because the matches will be very different from the friendly matches we played.
“I respect every team in the competition but at the same time we will fight to win all games. Our team is ready for the challenge. I’m very confident my team can deliver.”
It is not all plain sailing for Zaccheroni as he has to deal with the fitness issues of his key forwards Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil, and goalkeeper Khalid Eisa, who all missed the team's training session on Wednesday with various ailments.
“We are monitoring their progress with the medical staff and with time until the game on Friday we are hopeful of their availability,” Zaccheroni said.
Abdulla Al Junaibi, vice president of the UAE Football Association, said they were treating the regional tournament as part of their preparations for the Asian Cup 2019 as well.
“We are serious on winning the Gulf Cup but it’s also an opportunity for our new technical staff to identify the players, the combinations better, and implement their tactical ploys for the next phase of our preparation,” Al Junaibi explained.
“The morale of our players is at the best and there is a real desire from them to play true to their potentials and win the title. The players were also happy the Gulf Cup is taking place.”