x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Gulf Cup: UAE players to watch

Omar Abdulrahman, Ali Mabkhout, Ali Khaseif and Ismail Matar are key to Mahdi Ali-coached team.

Omar Abdulrahman was one of UAE football's success stories at the London Games last year. Pawan Singh / The National
Omar Abdulrahman was one of UAE football's success stories at the London Games last year. Pawan Singh / The National

Omar Abdulrahman

At the London Olympics, Uruguay's Luis Suarez swapped jerseys with Abdulrahman and Great Britain's Ryan Giggs, the Manchester United star, went to the UAE dressing room to have a chat with the diminutive playmaker and presented him with his game T-shirt. And then Micah Richards announced him as a star for the future.

"The No 15 is a very good player who plays beautiful football," said the English defender after witnessing Abdulrahman's skills first hand. "He'll be one of those players we should keep an eye on in the future."

Abdulrahman, 21, was the star of UAE's impressive show in London and he will be looking to enhance that reputation in Bahrain.

Ismail Matar

Winner of the Golden Ball at the 2003 Youth World Cup, Matar was the top scorer and player of the tournament when the UAE won the title at home in 2007. The Al Wahda forward scored the winner in both the semi-final and final back then, and has been the UAE's talisman since.

One of the most adored figures in Arabian Gulf football, Matar showed his worth again at the London Olympics, scoring early against Uruguay and Senegal to give the UAE the lead. He has been laid low by a chronic ankle injury since, but the Emirati fans will be hoping he is fit and raring to lead this golden generation of UAE football.

There are no better Emirati finishers in the country than him.

Ali Khaseif

Temperament-wise, there are few similarities between Khaseif and his predecessor Majed Naser, the man who guarded the UAE goal at the 2007 Gulf Cup.

They are poles apart, the first usually calm and unperturbed, and the second prone to ugly flare-ups. Had Naser shown a bit more restraint, he would have been on this trip to Bahrain as the 28 year old is still one of the best goalkeepers in the region. Khaseif, 25, now has the opportunity to take that tag. With Oman's Ali Al Habsi also absent from the tournament, the Al Jazira gloveman looks a good punt to be the goalkeeper of the tournament award.

He has been the safest goalkeeper in the Pro League this season.

Ali Mabkhout

The Al Jazira striker may not make the starting line-up in Mahdi Ali's team, at least not in the initial matches with Ismail Matar and Ahmed Khalil featuring higher up in the pecking order. Mabkhout, however, will certainly be the first-choice replacement for those two and could prove to be the UAE's supersub.

The 22 year old has been in good form this season, for both club and country, finding the target on a regular basis. And he has never lacked speed and Ricardo Oliveira, his teammate at the Abu Dhabi club, has predicted the Emirati will be the best striker in the UAE. As he himself says, "all we want is the team to win".

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