x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Oman are the team to avoid, says Ali

Mahdi Ali is targeting a first-place finish in Group B, which would see the UAE avoid a red hot Oman team in the semi-finals of the Under 23 Gulf Cup in Qatar.

Ahmed Ali, centre, the UAE striker, fends off the challenge of two Saudi Arabia defenders during Friday night's 1-0 win.
Ahmed Ali, centre, the UAE striker, fends off the challenge of two Saudi Arabia defenders during Friday night's 1-0 win.

Mahdi Ali is targeting a first-place finish in Group B, which would see the UAE avoid a red hot Oman team in the semi-finals of the Under 23 Gulf Cup in Qatar. Ali's team booked a place in the last four with 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia, the defending champions, on Friday night. A victory or a draw today against Kuwait would see them top the group.

The coach said: "Oman have proved to be the better team from the other group and if we can avoid an early meeting, why not?" Oman have beaten Qatar and Bahrain 2-0 in their games to top Group A. But Ali added that the UAE must be ready for any standard of opponent. "I am not really worried who we meet next because we must be prepared to face any team at any stage if we want to go all the way," he said.

The outcome of the final Group B match, at the Aspire Academy Stadium in Doha, Qatar, will decide which team advances to the semi-finals with the UAE. "Kuwait will be all out to win because it's a critical game for them," said Ali. "The outcome of this match will decide whether it's Kuwait or Saudi that go into the last four. So the pressure will be on our opponents. "Obviously I would expect an attacking game from Kuwait. That won't detract us from playing our usual attacking play. We will play to win."

Despite the win over the Saudis, secured thanks to a goal from Al Ahli's Ahmed Khalil six minutes from time, Ali was far from convinced by his team's display. "We have a lot of grey areas to be ironed out," he said. "We should have won more convincingly against Saudi Arabia. We missed too many chances in a game we clearly dominated. "It was our first game but I would like to see a far better performance against Kuwait. We must learn from every game if our main ambition is to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games. And this tournament is our first test."

With the UAE already assured of a berth in the last four, Kuwait will be looking to qualify ahead of Saudi Arabia, with whom they drew 1-1 in their opener. They need to win or to secure a score draw to advance on goal difference. Also tonight, Qatar and Bahrain meet in a winner-takes-all encounter to join Oman in the last four from Group A. apassela@thenational.ae