Though the UAE have improved with every game at the Gulf Cup, coach Mahdi Ali also hopes that 'luck is on our side' when they face Iraq for the 2013 title on Friday night, writes Ahmed Rizvi.
Gulf Cup: UAE are on the cusp of being great
At the start of his coaching career, Mahdi Ali said he set himself five goals. He is on the cusp of achieving the fourth on Friday night when the UAE take on Iraq for the Gulf Cup title.
Winning the 2008 Asian Under 19 title was likely one of those goals and then the appearance at the 2009 Youth World Cup in Egypt.
He has checked off the 2012 London Olympics as well and after Friday night, the lone unchecked box on his list could be reaching the 2018 World Cup.
"We run according to a programme we have prepared for the team and I hope I have achieved according to the aspirations of the team," Mahdi Ali said ahead of the clash with the three-time champions, who came through from a group that included strong contenders Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and then prevailed over Bahrain in their semi-final.
"There is no doubt these two are the strongest teams in the tournament as they have won all four of their matches here," the UAE coach said.
"Both teams are an open book. Iraq have a good mix of experience and youth, and they play really well as a unit. But I have great confidence in my own players and their ability to provide a good game and continue to impose their personality over their opponents.
"We have improved with every game through this tournament, so hopefully we will put up our best show in the final and provide a great game to bring down the curtains on the Gulf Cup.
"We also hope that luck is on our side and we can provide happiness to the people of UAE."
The UAE have all 23 players available for the game with no injuries or suspensions, but Mahdi Ali refused to discuss his starting XI, repeating that all the players are on the same level and he will pick the ones who best suit his plans for the game.
Diego Maradona has already backed the UAE to win the Gulf Cup, and now Quique Sanchez Flores, the Al Ahli coach, has expressed the same sentiment, saying the UAE "rightfully" deserve to win the title.
The Spaniard is also pleased with the contribution of the Ahli players - Abdulaziz Sanqour, Abdulaziz Haikal, Ahmed Khalil, Ismail Al Hammadi and Majed Hassan - in Mahdi Ali's team.
"I have followed all the Gulf Cup matches and the Ahli players have done well," said their coach, who has been particularly pleased with the performance of Khalil.
"I have talked before about the importance of this Gulf Cup for Ahmed Khalil and the opportunity it gives to prove himself and restore his confidence.
"He has shown great form and scored important goals for the team."
The Iraqis, who won their third and last title in 1988, are fully aware of the threat posed not just by Khalil but the entire UAE team.
"I know it is a difficult task we face and we have a lot of respect for the UAE team," Salam Shaker, the impressive Iraq centre-back, said.
"But we also know we are only a step away from the title, despite the difficulties we are definitely going to face.
"We are at the most difficult stage of the tournament and we want to finish this journey to the top of the podium and nothing can block our way.
"We have passed a very difficult test against Bahrain and we have to continue this progress against the UAE in the final."
PROBABLE STARTING XIs
Goalkeeper Ali Khasief
Defence Abdulaziz Sanqour, Mohammed Ahmed, Mohanad Salem, Abdulaziz Haikal
Midfield Omar Abdulrahman, Amer Abdulrahman, Khamis Esmail, Habib Al Fardan
Forwards Ali Mabkhout, Ahmed Khalil
Goalkeeper Noor Sabri
Defence Salam Shaker, Waleed Salem, Ali Adnan, Ahmad Ibrahim
Midfield Ali Rehema, Saif Salman, Ahmed Yasin, Humam Tariq, Hammadi Ahmad
Forward Younis Mahmoud
FIFA UNIMPRESSED BY UAE's GULF CUP RESULTS
Despite being on a 10-match unbeaten run, and reaching the Gulf Cup final, the UAE have dropped seven places to 103rd in the latest Fifa world rankings.
Mahdi Ali’s team were placed 96th in December’s update. The Gulf Cup is not recognised by Fifa as an official tournament, and therefore results from it are not taken into account. Spain remain in top spot, ahead of Germany and Argentina.
IRAQ COACH HOPES THIS GULF CUP FINAL OPENS DOORS FOR ARAB COACHES
Hakeem Shakir, the Iraq coach, is hoping the presence of the UAE and his team in the final of the Gulf Cup will open the doors for more national coaches in the region.
Six teams had come to Bahrain with foreign coaches, with names such as Frank Rijkaard and Gabriel Calderon at their helm.
Those big names, however, have been upstaged by two teams managed by nationals – the UAE with Mahdi Ali and Shakir’s Iraq.
“This experiment with national coaches has proved successful,” said Shakir, who was appointed Iraq’s caretaker coach after the Brazilian legend Zico left the job in November. “Most Arab countries, especially in the Gulf region, pursue coaches for reasons other than training.
“They want coaches with blonde hair and green eyes, but I think the UAE coach Mahdi Ali has stolen the show from all these coaches.”
Despite his respect for the UAE coach he added: “We are ready … there is a great desire among the players to win the title.”
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