x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Mahdi Ali era begins with UAE's trip to Japan

"I am aware of the high expectations but I need time to prepare a team," says Emirati coach ahead of first game in charge.

Mahdi Ali briefs his team in training in Japan, ahead of today's game at the Tokyo National Stadium. Courtesy UAE FA
Mahdi Ali briefs his team in training in Japan, ahead of today's game at the Tokyo National Stadium. Courtesy UAE FA

Srecko Katanec, the former UAE coach, said before his departure from the country that there was a "huge difference between boys' and men's football", referring to the levels of play between the age group and the senior national teams.

Mahdi Ali, who has had remarkable success with the UAE age group team, will find out if this is really the case tomorrow when the senior national team play Japan in his first game in charge.

The Emirati was appointed after he led the UAE to their first Olympic Games last month. He had earlier guided them to a maiden Under 19 Asian Championship in 2008, took them to the last eight in the U20 World Cup, and won a first silver medal at the Asian Games in Beijing in 2010.

He has now been given the task of preparing the squad over a three-year period.

The first challenge is the Gulf Cup in Bahrain from January 5 to 18, followed by the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia, and qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Mahdi Ali is aware of the high hopes of the country's football fans and has urged them to be patient, but he cannot escape from being in the spotlight after taking on the most demanding job in sports in the country.

"I am aware of the high expectations but I need time to prepare a team to achieve good results," he said.

"It is a big step up for me in terms of the position but I will be working with the same familiar faces, and that's a big advantage.

"We had very little preparation ahead of the first game but this is not something new to me. We have had similar problems when preparing for the Olympic qualifiers and the players have been together for a long time to adapt quickly to any situation.

"I am hoping for a good first game, not necessarily the result. Like any game, winning will be our objective but if we lose it's not something that I will not lose sleep."

Mahdi Ali also has a selection problem as Ismail Matar, the Al Wahda forward, as well as Al Ain's Ali Al Wehaibi and Ismail Ahmed, were all ruled out because of injuries.

"The injuries are not serious but it's not worth taking any risk," Mahdi Ali said. "We are up against a strong team and it will be a good test for those who get the opportunity to play.

"I am not thinking of this one game. We have a long-term plan in place and the friendlies are part of our preparation for the Gulf Cup as it is the first competition."

Japan v UAE, 2.20pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 1

apassela@thenational.ae

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