x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Keeper Naser calls for more goals from UAE

It is an illustration of the confidence and ambition in the UAE squad that Majed Naser said Tuesday's draw with North Korea, a side that played in the World Cup finals, felt 'like a defeat'.

The UAE squad in training in Doha yesterday.
The UAE squad in training in Doha yesterday.

DOHA // It is an illustration of the confidence and ambition in the UAE squad that Majed Naser said Tuesday's draw with North Korea, a side that played in the World Cup finals, felt "like a defeat".

However, the goalkeeper has urged the team's strikers to rediscover their touch in front of goal if Srecko Katanec's improving side are to progress beyond the group stage.

Before the game, the UAE would probably have been happy with a point against a side that lost 2-1 to Brazil in the summer but they played with such zest that the players left the pitch at Qatar Sports Club disappointed at sharing the spoils in their goalless opening Group D fixture.

"This draw is like a defeat for us, given the way we played and the number of scoring opportunities we had," Naser said. "One point is just not enough from such a performance.

"We played really well and I am sure we made our fans happy, but missing so many scoring opportunities is not good. I hope we can compensate for this in the next game against Iraq [on Saturday].

"It will be another tough game, but I am sure these difficult situations will bring the best out of us.

"The players are really determined, as they showed in the first match and we will be looking to get three points from the game.Iraq lost their first match, so they will be under pressure. We will try to use that to our advantage."

The UAE moved up three spots to 102nd in the Fifa rankings published yesterday, but their hopes of moving into the top 100 and progressing in the Asian Cup will hinge on their ability in front of goal. In their last seven matches, the UAE have scored just twice - against Bahrain in the Gulf Cup and in a friendly against Syria before coming here for the Asian Cup.

That area of the pitch is a huge concern for Katanec, who pinpoints the cause of the problem as the Pro League clubs who sign foreign strikers.

The high number of forward imports has hindered the progress of local marksmen and is evidenced by the lack of Emiratis in the Pro League's top-goalscorer's list.

Ahmed Khalil, the Al Ahli forward, has scored just twice in the league this season, while Ismail Matar has only one goal to his name.

Matar is enduring a similar barren spell for the national team, having failed to find the net in the last seven matches.

However, a goal was the only thing lacking from an impressive individual performance against North Korea on Tuesday night.

The Al Wahda player is hoping to end his goal drought when the UAE meet Iraq, the defending champions who lost their opening game against Iran 2-1.

"The Iraq team is an open book for us and we know every detail, big and small, about them," Matar said. "I am confident of our ability to deal with them and get a positive result. Of course, we need to score and we are disappointed not to have done that against North Korea. We tried our best and the number of opportunities we created is proof of that.

arizvi@thenational.ae