x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Forward-thinking Katanec delighted with win over 2022 World Cup hosts

The performance of his youthful strikers gives the UAE coach plenty of cause for optimism ahead of the World Cup qualifier with Kuwait.

Srecko Katanec issues instructions to his players against Qatar.
Srecko Katanec issues instructions to his players against Qatar.

Al AIN // Srecko Katanec is full of optimism ahead of UAE's 2014 World Cup qualifier against Kuwait next week after a clinical 3-1 victory over Qatar at the Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium.

Ahmed Khalil, a second-half substitute, scored twice after Hamdan Al Kamali put the hosts ahead from a spot kick in the 24th minute. Qatar pulled one back two minutes from time for a consolation goal from Marcone Amaral Costa.

The result, against a team placed 20 places above them in the Fifa rankings, leaves the team full of confidence ahead of the opening Group B Asia Zone 2014 World Cup qualifier at the same stadium in Al Ain on Friday.

The national side, who are attempting to qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time since 1990, travel to Lebanon for the second game four days later and play South Korea away on October 11 before the return leg a month later.

"I am not sure how serious Qatar's approach was to this game but I am satisfied with what I saw of my own players," the UAE coach said. "Obviously, the real challenge will be against Kuwait but we can take a lot of positives from this friendly. Our focus is on the [Kuwait] game," Katanec said. "Needless to say, we must take maximum advantage when we play the first game at home."

Katanec tried out a new and young forward combination with Amer Abdulrahman, 22, and Salem Saleh, 20, before replacing the latter with the 20-year-old Khalil, now the first-choice striker, at the break.

"The coach tried a new combination and it worked very well, particularly in the second half," Fahad Ali, the former captain and now one of Katanec's assistants, said. "It is entirely up to the coach to name the lineup before the Kuwait game but after this game he may have a good idea."

Conspicuous by their absence were Ismail Matar and Omer Abdulrahman, both recovering from knee surgeries, and Theyab Awana, who is in Katanec's 25-member squad but was injured while training.

Subait Khater, persuaded to return from international retirement, marshalled the midfield with Mohammed Al Shehhi, Ismail Al Hammadi and Ali Al Wehaibi while Al Kamali held the defence together with Khalid Sabeel, Yousuf Jaber and Walid Abbas. Majed Naser was in the goal.

"We had more possession, were more inventive and created more scoring opportunities and the more inspired team on the pitch," Katanec said. "And with that kind of performance I can't see anything wrong from this game.

"The technical level of our players was quite high. The combinations worked pretty well. We played good football for 70 minutes before we made changes in order to give everyone a chance to get on to the pitch."

He praised Khalil who battled personal grief following the recent death of his father to score twice.

"It was his decision to return a day after his father's death and we can only respect his decision and courage to come and play," he said. "He also had the presence of mind to score two goals.

"What more commitment can I ask from my players? They have showed tremendous unity and deep commitment for the national team, which for sure is a very good sign ahead of the qualifiers."

Ali, his new lieutenant, was not setting too much stall by the result of the friendly.

"Still, it was good to win any game we play but the result aren't very important in these friendlies," he said. "Nevertheless, it was a commendable result and surely gives a mental edge to our players for next weekend's match with Kuwait which we expect to be the first real test of the upcoming qualifiers."

Qatar also will go into action in the opening day's qualifier when they travel to Bahrain for a Group E encounter.

 

apassela@thenational.ae