x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Mahdi Ali coy on talk of replacing Srecko Katanec

The Football Association meeting today to discuss who will replace the Slovenian as UAE coach, with the Olympic team manager believed to be among the contenders.

Mahdi Ali has enjoyed success coaching the UAE’s different age-group teams.
Mahdi Ali has enjoyed success coaching the UAE’s different age-group teams.

DUBAI // Mahdi Ali, the Olympic team coach, could be one of the front runners for the national team job when Mohammed Khalfan Al Rumaithi, the Football Association president, chairs a meeting tonight to discuss a replacement for Srecko Katanec.

Katanec, who was in charge of the senior team for 27 months, was fired after Tuesday's 3-1 away defeat to Lebanon.

It was the UAE's second loss in four days after going down 3-2 at home to Kuwait on the opening night of the third round of World Cup qualifying in Al Ain on September 2.

Ali, who has eight players from his Olympic line-up in the national team, suggested it would be a good idea to have both teams train together under one coach.

"It makes sense ... because the qualifying matches in the World Cup and the London Games are not far from each other," he said yesterday at the Emirates Concorde Hotel, where the Olympic team is based until their departure to Australia on Friday.

When he was pressed for an answer, Ali insisted he can speak further only after the FA's meeting.

"I don't want to talk about the senior national team or anything more for the time being. Let the FA meet on Thursday [today] and we'll see what comes out of it," he said.

"For now, I am not saying anything. I am happy with my role as the Olympic team coach. It has been my biggest ambition to qualify this team for next year's London Olympics. I have worked for it for the last four years and this is my first priority."

The FA will m eet today at 6pm at their headquarters at Al Khawaneej, according to Jaseb Majeed, the FA's media manager.

"Everything will be clear after the meeting," Majeed said.

He also denied the FA had made an offer to Abel Braga, who led Al Jazira to the league title and President's Cup last season before moving to Fluminense in Brazil.

"It would be interesting to know who made him an offer," Majeed said. "As far as we are concerned, nobody from the FA had approached him. Braga is under pressure at Fluminense and may be looking for a way out."

Ali has a good record in age group competitions. He led his team to the Under 19 Asian Cup title in 2008, the Under 23 Gulf Cup title in 2010, and a first silver medal at the Asian Games in China last December.

He also led them to the quarter-finals of the Under 20 World Cup in Egypt in 2009.

Ali said his preparation of the Under 23 team has been hampered as he is left with hardly any time to prepare his full line-up because the dates for the Olympic qualifiers were always after the World Cup qualifying games.

"We started our camp on September 3 but have to train without the key players," he said. "It is a problem because I don't have much time to play them together. And those who get to play the full game in the senior national team have to be rested and those who are on the bench need match practice.

"We have been in this situation time and again, but we have adapted well. But this can't go on and on. I have also missed several of my key players for important competitions because they were on duty with the senior national team."

Ali had only three players from his regular line-up in their title defence of the Under 23 Gulf Cup in Qatar last month.

"We did quite well to reach the final," he said. "We lost in a penalty shoot-out to Oman and it also provided those who didn't get to play regularly with an opportunity to play. These were the positives we took forward from that game."

Ali has already lost Hamdan Al Kamali, the captain and central defender, who has been ruled out for four weeks with a fractured cheekbone he suffered in the defeat to Kuwait.

"He is an important player in my team, but we are helpless when the players pick up an injury," said Ali, who will also miss his influential midfielder Omar Abdulrahman, who is recovering from knee surgery.

The Olympic team play Australia in their opening Group B match in Adelaide on September 21. They then meet Uzbekistan at home on November 23 and clash with Iraq four days later before the second leg matches in February and March.

The senior national team travel to South Korea for their game on October 11 before they host the Koreans in the second leg a month later.