x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Mahdi wants his side to maintain focus

Team are aware of expectations to reach 2012 Olympics and coach Ali wants side to focus on next game.

AL AIN // Mahdi Ali has told the UAE's Olympic team to wipe from their memories Thursday's impressive 3-0 victory over their Egyptian counterparts and go into tonight's re-match with a fresh approach. 

"They will come stronger and better prepared," Mahdi said of Egypt, "and it is important for us to keep the focus on winning again, and winning more convincingly.

"Winning is a very good habit and it does wonders to the confidence of the players. But playing against the same opponent three days later may also have a tendency for the players to relax and lose concentration." 

The Football Association has made it very clear that the objective is to see this team play at the 2012 Olympics. To qualify, the side would have to reach the semi-finals of the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, next month.

"The players and the technical staff are aware of it [the expectation] and that's understandable because of the potential of this squad," Ali said. 

"They have progressed well since winning the Asian Under 19 Championship in 2008, reaching the quarter-finals in the Under 20 World Cup last year and winning the Under 23 Gulf Cup in August." The Emirates have been drawn alongside Uzbekistan - the team they beat in the U19 final in 2008 - as well as minnows Bangladesh and Hong Kong in the group stages of the Asian Games.

The top two teams from the six groups and the four best third-placed teams will advance to the last-16 knockout round. Tonight's match at the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain (KO 7pm) is part of the preparation for the China tournament, which begins on November 7. "To reach the last four in the Asian Games is our obvious goal," Mahdi said. "But for the time being it's our preparation. We had a decent first game after re-grouping for the first time in more than two months and now head for the second match with Egypt.

"I would like to think we can come out with a better performance in this game. "It is all about getting the right combinations and to have some good back-up for every position. We try all that and also to win the game." Mahdi has one injury worry as Ahmed Ali, the Baniyas midfielder, is still recovering from a leg injury he suffered three days ago. Ahmed Khalil, the best forward prospect in the country, is absent because he is leading the country's U19 Asian Championship title defence in China - where the UAE have reached the quarter-finals - along with Omar Abdulrahman, the Al Ain midfielder.

Hani Ramzy, the former Egypt international who spent 12 years as a player in Germany's Bundesliga, is now the coach of his country's Olympic team. He said he was trying out new faces in the first game as most of his Olympic team players were engaged in the domestic league. "That shouldn't be an excuse for our defeat," he said. "We made a few mistakes and didn't take our chances. I am still hopeful we can come back strongly."

apassela@thenational.ae 7pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 1