x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Gulf Cup: Mahdi Ali asks Pro League to proceed with caution

With his hands on the Gulf Cup trophy and his eyes on the upcoming Asian Cup qualifier, Mahdi Ali asks the Pro League to 'protect' his players, says Ahmed Rizvi.

With his hands on the Gulf Cup of Nations trophy, Mahdi Ali already has his eyes down the road, specifically the Asian Cup qualifier against Vietnam at Hanoi.
With his hands on the Gulf Cup of Nations trophy, Mahdi Ali already has his eyes down the road, specifically the Asian Cup qualifier against Vietnam at Hanoi.

Mahdi Ali has urged Pro League clubs to protect his national team players after their Gulf Cup triumph.

The league resumes on Saturday after a 35-day break and the UAE coach is worried for his players ahead of their 2015 Asian Cup qualifier in Vietnam on February 6.

"The team has played five games in two weeks, and the last game was 120 minutes," he said. "Certainly, the players will return to their club but I hope we can keep them safe from injuries. We play against Vietnam in the first week of February and I hope everyone will keep this mind."

The Emirati coach has set out his long-term targets following his teams 2-1 victory in Bahrain, with success at the 2015 Asian Cup and qualifying for the 2018 World Cup being at the top of his wish list.

"I am the first Emirati coach to win the Gulf Cup and I hope this will be the start of victories at the upcoming Asian Cup," Mahdi Ali said. "I also hope I can take this team to the 2018 World Cup."

The UAE's victory in Manama on Friday night brought them their second Gulf Cup title at the senior level, adding to the one they won at home in 2007.

The Whites won all five of their games and impressed even rival officials and fans with their elegant play and tactical superiority.

Mahdi Ali has been hailed as the architect of this golden generation and at the post-final news conference, a Kuwaiti journalist doffed his hat to the Emirati and a Saudi reporter led a loud, standing ovation.

The UAE coach thanked them and his country's leaders and fans for their "great support", dedicating the trophy to the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the President of the UAE, and he promised there is more to come from his team.

But Mahdi Ali's World Cup dreams will have to wait as in two weeks his team have to travel to Hanoi for their opening 2015 Asian Cup qualifier against Vietnam.

That first game is on February 6 and between then and March 5, 2014, the UAE will play against Uzbekistan and Hong Kong, along with Vietnam, on a home and away basis to decide the two teams from the group who will get a ticket to the continental championship in Australia.

There is clearly massive support throughout the country for Mahdi Ali's young team as could been seen by the huge turnout in Bahrain and the euphoria on the streets on Friday night after their cup final victory.

"This title is a fruit of sound planning and the great support of the Sheikhs and the masses," said Ismail Matar, the UAE captain who had the honour of lifting the trophy for a second time. The Al Wahda striker was the player of the tournament in 2007 as well as leading the side.

"We would like to dedicate this trophy to all the people of the UAE and we hope to do even better in the coming period."

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE