x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Hands are tied for Chile but Katanec soldiers on

The Slovenian has named a 22-man UAE squad, leaving out several first-team players who would most likely have made the starting XI.

ABU DHABI // What can a coach do when he is told to keep his hands off the nation's best young players and some others who turn out for a team preparing for the Club World Cup? 

Srecko Katanec, the national team coach, is faced with such a dilemma as he prepares for the Gulf Cup in Yemen from November 22 to December 4.

The Slovenian has named a 22-man squad, leaving out several first-team players who would most likely have made the starting XI, for the friendlies with Chile on Saturday and Angola three days later, both at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi. 

"I don't think about those who are not available for the senior team, but this provides an opportunity for others to get into the squad," Katanec said in a pre-match press conference at the Zayed Sports City yesterday.

"This is the best I could pick and it will be the squad we may have to move on with for the Gulf Cup. I will try to make some new combinations at the back, and some in the middle. I have been told players from both the youth team and Al Wahda will not be available, so I have picked the best available team for now." 

The country's football administrators have made qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics their main objective, depriving the senior national team of the best Under 23 players.

The Football Association had also announced Katanec will be unable to select players from Wahda, the Pro League champions, giving them the best possible chance to impress at the Club World Cup in the capital in December. 

Katanec, however, has selected Ismail Matar, Mohammed al Shehhi, Mahmoud Khamis and Fahed Masoud from Wahda for the friendlies, but al Shehhi has pulled out with an ankle injury.

"I had no choice when selecting a few players from Wahda because they are important in my team. For the time being, I couldn't find any replacements. "It is not easy to have a new line up in a short time. But hopefully I will have more time when we go into the final camp before the Gulf Cup." 

Katanec is expecting a strong match against a team rated 10th in the Fifa world rankings. But Chile arrive without many of the players who progressed to the last 16 of the World Cup in South Africa, eventually losing 3-0 to Brazil.

"I have seen the list and it's not the same team side that played in the World Cup." said Katanec. "I really don't know what type of team that we are going to face, but whoever is in the national team must be very good." 

One of the players Katanec knows well is Pedro Morales, the 25-year-old midfielder, who plays for Dynamo Zagreb, the Croatian club. "I have seen Morales play for Dynamo Zagreb and I'm familiar with a few names, but most of them are an unknown quantity for me.

"I like to play stronger opposition to know how good we are against stronger opponents. It is not like playing against teams from the same region. "On paper, both Chile and Angola, whom we play on Tuesday, are very strong and that's the kind of opposition I want to test my players with." 

Marcelo Beilsa, the Chile coach, insisted his players have arrived on their first trip to the capital well prepared. "It is normal that we evaluate the players and the team's performances after a World Cup, and that's one of the reasons why we haven't come with a full squad," said the Argentine. "But whoever we have selected for this game are good enough to be in the national team and we are serious about this game."

Carlos Villanueva, the Al Shabab midfielder, joins the squad. Beilsa said Villanueva's experience in the Pro League mattered little on his selection. 

"He was already in Dubai and was available, so we decided to include him, but not because of his local experience," said Bielsa. "And because we had Morales and Villanueva, there was no need to bring in Jorge Valdivia [who played for Al Ain for two seasons]."

apassela@thenational.ae