x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Mahdi Ali starts on his 'final goal'

Building a strong squad in two years' time one the new senior team coach's top priorities.

Mahdi Ali, the new national football team coach, knows expectations will be high after his recent success with the Olympic side. Courtesy of Arshad Abuobaker
Mahdi Ali, the new national football team coach, knows expectations will be high after his recent success with the Olympic side. Courtesy of Arshad Abuobaker

DUBAI // Mahdi Ali is relishing the challenge of taking on the "huge responsibility" of coaching the UAE national side following his unprecedented success with the age-group teams and recent role handling the Olympic squad.

The 47-year-old Emirati's first task is to prepare them for the Gulf Cup in Bahrain from January 5 to 18, as he attempts to achieve his "fifth and final goal" as a coach.

Mahdi Ali today outlined the national team's schedule in his first media briefing at the UAE Football Association Headquarters in Dubai.

"To take charge of the senior national team is a huge responsibility as the expectations will be much higher than that of the age group teams which I was in charge of," said Mahdi Ali, who signed a three-year contract last week.

"My main task would be to build a strong squad in the next two years. Of course the first would be to prepare a strong squad for the Gulf Cup for which we have just over three months.

"We have five competitive friendly matches arranged in the lead-up for the regional championship. This is an important competition which we obviously want to win."

The UAE will play a series of friendlies starting with an away game against Japan on September 6 followed by a home match with Kuwait five days later.

They will host Australia on October 12, play Bahrain away four days later, and hope to play host to Slovenia on November 4.

Mahdi Ali named a 23-member squad for the friendlies against Japan and Kuwait, which included a majority of the players who represented the UAE at the London Games.

MahdiAli will have little time though to regroup his squad in Dubai on August 31 and train for two days at either the Zabeel Stadium or at the Al Maktoum Stadium before they fly out to Japan on September 3.

As the majority of Mahdi Ali's squad consists of players who represented the country at the London Games, the coach felt they can adapt very quickly for the matches ahead.

"My association with the majority of these players, particularly those who were in the age-group teams, goes a long way back. In some cases as long as nine years," he said.

"That's the biggest advantage we have. These players understand and know each other so well it becomes so much easier to work with them as combinations. And I have been fortunate enough to be with them during all that time."

Mahdi Ali led the UAE to the Under 19 Asian Cup in 2008, took them to the last eight in the U20 World Cup in the following year, won a silver medal in the Asian Games in 2011, and qualified them for the Olympic Games in London - thus achieving four of his goals as coach.

"I wish I will have the same success I have had with the senior national team as I did with the age group teams," he said.

"Every man should have ambitions and I have had my share with my profession and as a coach I had set five goals of which I have accomplished four. I wish I can now achieve my final goal with the senior national team.

"I would also like to place on record of my sincere gratitude towards all those who had faith on me and backed me for the job. Now it is my job to lead my country to lead them to more success."

Mahdi Ali, in his professional career as the director of the Dubai Municipality, masterminded the parking system for the RTA (Road Transport Authority) in Dubai and played the leading role in introducing the Nol card for the Dubai Metro. He began his role as a coach as assistant to Juma Rabee with the UAE U16 team in 2005 and later took charge of the same squad two years later and led them Asian Championship glory in Saudi Arabia in 2008.

apassela@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE