x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Gulf Cup: Mahdi Ali's feet are on the ground after UAE win

UAE coach pleased to see his forwards fire in 3-1 victory over Qatar, but warns players not to get complacent, writes Amith Passela.

The UAE got off to a nervy start in their first match against Qatar before settling down and going on to win. Fadi Al-Assaad / Reuters
The UAE got off to a nervy start in their first match against Qatar before settling down and going on to win. Fadi Al-Assaad / Reuters

In a typical reaction for him, Mahdi Ali has played down the UAE's bright start in the Gulf Cup.

The Emirati urged players and fans alike not to get carried away after the 3-1 win over Qatar in their Group A opener at the Khalifa Sports City Stadium in Bahrain.

"This is our first match and we have a long way to go in this competition. It was indeed a good start but we must not get carried away by this result," the UAE coach said.

"Whatever we did in that game is history. We play Bahrain next and that is where our focus would be from now on. They are the hosts and we are aware what they are capable of."

Bahrain were held to a scoreless draw by Oman at the Bahrain National Stadium in Riffa in the tournament's first match on Saturday.

"We still have a long way to go in this competition and need to move on with our own game plans without giving much thought on the past result," Mahdi Ali said.

The Gulf Cup is Mahdi Ali's first official competition since his appointment as the senior national team coach in August. In seven friendlies, his record stands at five wins, including a 6-3 victory over Bahrain; a 2-2 draw with Uzbekistan and a 1-0 away defeat to Japan.

However, he urges a forward-looking mentality.

"We are always looking at the next game if we have to go all the way in this competition," he said. "We need to improve after every game and there is no end to that. We won against Qatar and we need to take that momentum forward against Bahrain.

"I am happy with our performance in the first game. The players showed their true potential and character in this game to come from a goal down and win."

Khalfan Ibrahim put Qatar ahead with an 11th-minute penalty but Omar Abdurahman cancelled out that goal two minutes later when he scored from a free kick.

Ali Mabkhout gave the UAE the lead, and Mohammed Ahmed got the third goal in the second half.

Mahdi Ali acknowledged Abdulrahman's equaliser was the turning point. "For sure, that took the pressure off and we settled in well thereafter to play as we would have," he said.

The coach was able to give Ismail Matar some playing time late in the game as the national team captain continues his recovery from a troublesome knee injury.

"We sent him in just to give him a feel of the ball out there in the middle because we may need him to come and play at some stage of the competition," Mahdi Ali said.

He also thought Ahmed Khalil, the forward, was short of match fitness after returning from injury. "He hasn't played many games but I wanted to give him more time on the pitch. He did a pretty good job and hopefully he can regain his true form in the coming games," Mahdi Ali said.

Hamdan Al Kamali, the centre-back, conceded it took some time for the team to settle in. "We were a bit nervous at the beginning and conceded a penalty but fortunately it didn't take long for the equaliser to arrive," he said.

"That goal restored our confidence and we became better organised."

 

apassela@thenational.ae

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