x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Gulf Cup: Mahdi Ali's pledge to fans - 'We are now ready'

UAE national football coach Mahdi Ali promised a powerful effort from his team as they open the Gulf Cup of Nations on Saturday against Qatar.

UAE national team coach Mahdi Ali is happy with how his side have prepared for the Gulf Cup of Nations in Bahrain.
UAE national team coach Mahdi Ali is happy with how his side have prepared for the Gulf Cup of Nations in Bahrain.

The usually cautious Mahdi Ali on Friday promised UAE football supporters a "powerful" effort by his team as they begin play in the Gulf Cup on Saturday night versus Qatar.

"At the camp before coming here, we did not think of any other things and our focus was solely on the pitch," the Emirati national team coach said.

"We are ready now, and I can assure our fans of a powerful and exciting performance."

Hopes are high for the UAE side, which includes 17 members of the Olympic team, who gave a good accounting of themselves at the London 2012 Games.

Ali has kept his team and their preparations behind closed doors since the start of a training camp in Doha two weeks ago, and speaking in Manama on the eve of Saturday night's match, he defended his decision.

"There are no secrets in team drills, but everyone tries to keep some technical matters confidential and not reveal all his plans," the former Al Ahli midfielder said. "I think it is the right of every coach to try out different things, technical matters and strategies, in secret and keep the training sessions closed."

Qatar won the Gulf title in 1992 and 2004, each time as the host, and are in the midst of a qualifying battle for the 2014 World Cup. However, Khalfan Ibrahim has promised his teammates will not be taking this tournament lightly.

"The Gulf Cup is not a preparation for the World Cup qualifiers," said the Qatar striker. "We are here to win the championship and we hope to make a good start against the UAE. "For sure, it is going to be a difficult game because the UAE are one of candidates for the title and I hope we will be able to play at a level worthy of the two teams."

Bilal Mohammed, the Qatar captain, added: "If we win this match, it will be a huge boost moving forward and that is our target: to go as far as we can in the tournament."

Bahrain, the hosts, will open their campaign earlier in the night against the 2009 champions Oman at the National Stadium, hoping to end a 42-year wait for their first Gulf Cup title.

Gabriel Calderon, the Argentine boss of Bahrain, is not looking too far ahead, though, and has urged his players to focus solely on Oman.

"I am not thinking about the title, but I am thinking about the win over Oman and then in the next game and so on," he said, describing the opening match as "important" but not "decisive".

"Spain lost their first match in the [2010] World Cup and won the title, and Argentina lost the first game and reached the final" of the 1990 World Cup, during which Calderon made five appearances.

For the second successive Gulf Cup, Oman will take the pitch without their most famous player, Ali Al Habsi, who was denied permission by his Premier League club Wigan Athletic to join the team.

The goalkeeper, however, is confident Oman can challenge for the title despite his absence. "The Oman team has a good blend of young talent and experience, and they can certainly compete for the title," he said, wishing his colleagues "success at the Gulf Cup".

"I thank the Oman Football Association on their efforts to secure my participation in the Gulf Cup, but circumstances prevented me from answering this call of duty."

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

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