x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Goal onus on Khalil and Matar for UAE at Asian Cup

Srecko Katanec's UAE face a key game with Iraq and the coach hopes his top marksmen Ahmed Khalil and Ismail Matar find their scoring touch.

Ismail Matar has yet to open his account in this year's Asian Cup but hopes to do so in tonight's clash against Iraq. Marwan Naamani / AFP
Ismail Matar has yet to open his account in this year's Asian Cup but hopes to do so in tonight's clash against Iraq. Marwan Naamani / AFP

DOHA // Ahmed Khalil and Ismail Matar are two of the biggest names in UAE football at the moment. The former has had a spectacular rise up the popularity charts since playing a starring role at the Asian Under 19 Championship, while the latter has been the pride of Emirati fans since the 2003 Youth World Cup, where he was adjudged the best player.

For all their excellence, though, the two marksmen have been shooting blanks of late and every fan in the UAE will be hoping that they begin hitting the target tonight when the Whites meet the defending champions Iraq in their second Group D match of the Asian Cup.

Iraq lost their opening game 2-1 against traditional rivals Iran, while the UAE missed numerous chances against North Korea to finish 0-0. While a similar score in this game would not shut out either side from the chase for the two second-round spots, three points for the UAE would certainly make their task easier given that they play Iran in the final group game.

Srecko Katanec, the UAE coach, said that the three days between matches is not enough time to expect dramatic changes in attack, but he is hoping his forwards will not be as goal-shy against Iraq.

"There is no time to do some special job with the players," the Slovenian said. "To do a special job in two days is impossible; if you have a month it's another thing.

"For me, the important thing is that the players believe in their quality, and stay focused on the goal, on the ball. If we can create as many chances as we did against North Korea, I will be satisfied.

"If we create so many chances, we will definitely score … I am sure. Creating chances is very important and I want my team to play just as they did in the first game.

"I expect my team to be composed and we must give 120 per cent and look to keep possession. We have quality to win the game."

The UAE and Iraq are familiar rivals and their last game, at the Gulf Cup in Yemen, was a 0-0 stalemate. In the seven games since the start of that Gulf Cup, the UAE have scored in just two matches, but Subait Khater, the captain, is not too worried about those statistics.

"Each match is different and scoring goals can depend on so many factors," said Khater, who will retire from international football after this tournament. "I do hope we can get the goals and are able to progress to the next stage."

Iraq, meanwhile, are confident of overcoming the UAE and qualifying for the second round, despite the setback in the opening game.

"We are fully confident," said Wolfgang Sidka, Iraq's German coach. "We know we can go through to the quarter-finals because we believe in our abilities.

"Of course, this is a crucial match for us, but it is the same for the UAE. They have one point and so they are also under pressure. They have their third match with Iran and we play North Korea.

"So we stay optimistic. We have to fight with our heart but with a cool brain. That's very important in this competition."

arizvi@thenational.ae

8.15pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 7, Aljazeera Sport 1, +4, +10 & 1HD