x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Gulf Cup: Top spot is the only target for UAE

Coach Mahdi Ali is looking for a 'better level' of performance against Kuwait in the semi-finals.

Mahdi Ali addresses his players are the UAE national team prepare for their game against Kuwait.
Mahdi Ali addresses his players are the UAE national team prepare for their game against Kuwait.

As the UAE line-up for today's Gulf Cup semi-final against the defending champions Kuwait, Mahdi Ali has made it clear he will not be satisfied with anything less than winning the title.

The Whites won all their group games, but the coach says that is not an "achievement".

"Achievement for us is to win the championship," Mahdi Ali said. "I have participated in major tournaments like the London Olympics, but hopefully we will be able to win this game and then the cup.

"It is premature to think about the final though; we are only thinking about the semi-finals at the moment and totally focused on it because it is going to be tough. There are no injuries or suspensions, and we are ready for it. Hopefully, we can offer a better level than the previous games."

Kuwait, a 10-time winner of the regional tournament, have a good record against the Whites in the competition, winning nine of their 16 matches and losing six. They have, however, said the UAE are the favourites going into this game, in an attempt to put pressure on Mahdi Ali's men.

Sheikh Talal Al Fahad, the chief of the Kuwait Football Association, described the UAE as the Gulf's "super team" and said: "I have not seen any UAE team at this level, with all due respect to the previous generation as well as the winning team of 2007."

At a press conference today Mahdi Ali said: "We do not need, nor are we waiting to receive praise from other parties, however we thank Sheikh Fahad for praising us. Every team is well aware of their technical levels and their strengths and weaknesses, so we know our boundaries and our levels."

Bader Al Mutawa, the Kuwait striker, was also lavish in his praise of the UAE. "They are the toughest team in this tournament and there is no difference between their top players and the reserves," he said.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs who met the players at their training session on Sunday, believes these comments are an attempt to give "anaesthesia" to the team and he urged them to remain focused.

Ismail Matar, the UAE captain, said the squad were all showing the "desired focus".

"The players have succeeded in giving a good account of UAE football with our results in the competition so far and we are not going to slacken now," he said.

While the UAE may be the fancied team, Kuwait have history on their side. They have returned home as champions on all three occasions that Bahrain have hosted the tournament and Goran Tufegdzic is keen to keep that record going.

"I hope to continue this wonderful record of winning all the Gulf Cups held in Bahrain," Kuwait's Serbian coach said. "This is part of history and history must be respected, but we must remain focused on the next match and fight with everything we have.

"The UAE are a young side with a great future ahead, but I believe our team knows how to find our way past them."

arizvi@thenational.ae

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