x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Katanec says UAE can do it on National Day

The footballers have a big National Day date and the coach is confident his makeshift team can beat Saudi Arabia to reach the Gulf Cup final.

Srecko Katanec, in white shirt, directs training as the UAE team prepare for tonight’s Gulf Cup semi-final against Saudi Arabia.
Srecko Katanec, in white shirt, directs training as the UAE team prepare for tonight’s Gulf Cup semi-final against Saudi Arabia.

It is an opportune time for Emirati footballers to make a presentation to a nation celebrating the 39th National Day. It can be delivered as a package from Aden, Yemen, tonight by way of reaching the Gulf Cup final.

Having exceeded expectations with draws against Iraq and Oman and a victory over Bahrain to finish top of their group, the UAE camp are upbeat ahead of their meeting with Saudi Arabia in the semi-final.

The UAE have won the regional title only once, when they hosted the tournament in 2007, but a second is not beyond their reach, Srecko Katanec, the coach, said.

"I don't see any reason why we can't be in the final," he said. "I think we have played exceptionally well throughout the competition and just need to carry on with the same thrust and game plan.

"It has been an excellent team effort with everyone contributing to the success we have had so far. The players I had to select when most of the key players were not made available by the Football Association have proved to me that they also can do the job.

"Some of them will certainly be in contention when the squad for the Asian Cup will be selected when this is over. This is a positive development that there is more competition for the places in the national team."

The team's next stop is the Asian Cup in Qatar starting from January 7, and Katanec will have all his key players at his disposal, from the Under 23 squad that won silver at the Asian Games in China and those from Al Wahda who were left behind as they are preparing for the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi from December 8 to 18.

Katanec tonight will also be without Khalid Sabeel, the Al Jazira midfielder, who serves a one-match ban for being booked against Iraq and Bahrain.

"We will miss Khalid for the next game but we have adequate cover for him," Katanec said.

"Thank goodness we have no injuries. It looks pretty good for us with the kind of results we have had and the confidence is high in the camp."

Katanec was wary of their opponents, saying: "The Saudis are traditionally a strong team and I have followed their matches. They are well-organised side and they are also unbeaten in the competition. So we have a real game in hand."

The Saudis have played draws against Kuwait and Iraq after a 4-0 trouncing of Yemen in the first game. The three-time winners, having arrived with higher ambitions, will be under far more pressure than the UAE.

"In football, we must be able to handle the pressure," said Jose Peseiro, the Portuguese coach of Saudi Arabia. "We have also not come with a full squad because we want to try out some of the youngsters. That doesn't mean we have not come to win this competition.

"Like the UAE, we have played well. We are both unbeaten and I would also fancy my team's chances of making it to the final."

apassela@thenational.ae

9pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 1