x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

I'm looking to the future, says Srecko Katanec

The coach of the UAE national team said his focus during a football friendly with Kuwait tomorrow night will be on his own players.

ABU DHABI //Srecko Katanec is not concerned with Kuwait. He is not even very interested in the final score. The coach of the national team said his focus during a football friendly with Kuwait tomorrow night will be on his own players, and particularly on the best and brightest who are coming up from the nation's age-group sides.

"The Kuwait match is just to give the players an outing and to experiment with a few combinations," Katanec said. "I am not worried about Kuwait or the result. My focus will be on my own players." Included in Katanec's 22-man squad are four youngsters from the champion Under 23 Gulf Cup team: Ahmed Khalil, the 19-year-old Al Ahli striker; Theyab Awana and Amer Abdulrahman, the Baniyas midfielders; and Sultan Bargash al Minhali from Al Jazira.

Hamdan al Kamali, the captain of the U20 World Cup team and the central defender from Al Wahda, is also in the squad. Preparing his team for the Gulf Cup in Yemen in November and the Asian Cup in Qatar in January is uppermost on Katanec's mind, and the process began late on Saturday with training at Zayed Sports City. Mohammed Khalfan al Rumaithi, the president of the Football Association, was at the session and said he was pleased with the national team's progress.

"Our programme to blood youngsters has gone well and quite a lot of them have made it to the senior national team," al Rumaithi said. "The youth is our future and they have already had some success at the level. "We now need to get them into the mainstream gradually. It is up to the national coach to select the best and groom them." Katanec has called up Adel al Hosani, the Al Wahda goalkeeper, in place of Yousuf Abdulrahman, who is recovering from serious injuries to his face and shoulder in a car crash on Thursday.

"I am praying for his recovery and not thinking about his return to the game," Katanec said of Abdulrahman. "His return to the national team is not important for me as much as his health and return to normal life. It is more important than winning matches. He was indeed a bright prospect for the national team." The national team is together for the first time since a camp in Germany in May when they played two friendlies - a 3-2 victory over Moldova and a 1-0 defeat to World Cup-bound Algeria.

Kuwait, too, are using tomorrow's 10pm match at the Al Wahda Club's Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi as part of their preparation for the Gulf Cup. The Kuwaitis arrived in the capital last night after a 3-0 demolition of Syria in a friendly last week. The Kuwait match is the first of three friendlies ahead of the Gulf Cup, which runs from November 22 to December 4. Katanec, a Slovenian, said he appreciated the chance to look at some of his younger players during the early start to the Pro League, and added that he was impressed by some of the crowds at the matches.

He was not enthusiastic about the extreme heat and humidity in which his men played. "It is not ideal to play and to resume the national team's training under such harsh weather conditions," Katanec said after a 90-minute training session. "The players are fasting and to play in this humid and energy-sapping weather is too hard for them. They take a longer time to recover. So I am not in favour of the early start to the season."

Al Rumaithi stressed that the early Pro League start was necessitated by the national team's preparations for the international competitions and said starting in August is better than ending in July. "It is only the first few games that will be hard; the weather will improve and normalcy will return." Katanec said on-the-field results will matter more in coming weeks. "My real work will begin a month before the Gulf Cup."

apassela@thenational.ae