x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Mahdi Ali asks for calm ahead of Olympic side's Iraq test

Victory in Doha would renew hope of qualifying for the London Games.

Mahdi Ali has sought to calm expectations on the UAE's Olympic team ahead of their game with Iraq.
Mahdi Ali has sought to calm expectations on the UAE's Olympic team ahead of their game with Iraq.

The Football Association repeatedly have described today's UAE Olympic team match with Iraq in Doha a "make or break" moment.

A defeat would not be fatal to the Under 23 side's London 2012 hopes, but a path to the Olympics would become complicated, indeed. A victory, however, would lift the Emiratis out of the Group B cellar and perhaps into second with two matches to play. Mahdi Ali, the UAE coach, has called for supporters to keep a positive frame of mind.

"I urge everyone to show his support and do not put the players under pressure," he said. "We have every chance to bounce back."

The UAE's crisis deepened in November, when they lost 2-0 to Iraq in Al Ain. But if they can avenge that defeat today at the Al Arabi Stadium in Doha, their campaign will be revived.

Goals have been the bane of the U23 side; they have yet to score in three group matches.

They are without Ahmed Khalil, the Al Ahlistriker, who is out with injury. Ali Mabkhout, the Al Jazira forward, who scored in friendly victories over Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, will hope to show more of that form today and not the profligacy he demonstrated in the 2-0 loss to Iraq. The midfielder Amer Abdulrahman of Baniyas is also important in the attack.

The winners of the three Asia Football Confederation qualifying groups gain immediate entry to the London Games.

The three second-place sides will advance to a round-robin tournament in Vietnam, beginning on March 25, and the survivor plays the African side Senegal in Coventry, in England, on April 23, with that winner also reaching the Olympics.