x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Problems pile up for Katanec

The UAE coach can ill afford to have his options restricted and is going to need every ounce of talent he can find over the next few weeks.

Roberto Cereceda slots home Chile’s opening goal from the penalty spot in a 2-0 win for the visitors against the UAE last night.
Roberto Cereceda slots home Chile’s opening goal from the penalty spot in a 2-0 win for the visitors against the UAE last night.

Srecko Katanec would never claim to have an embarrassment of riches at his disposal when it comes to selecting UAE players for international duty. 

But the Slovenian coach can ill afford to have his options restricted and is going to need every ounce of talent he can find over the next few weeks as he prepares his squad for the Gulf Cup in Yemen from November 22. Katenec's task is already demanding given the size of the pool of footballers he has to choose from, compared to Gulf rivals such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

But it is bordering on mission impossible as he faces the prospect of seeking to overcome seven other Middle East nations in Yemen with more than half of his preferred starting line-up. The three Al Wadha players who began last night's disappointing friendly against Chile - Ismail Matar, Mahmoud Khamis and Fahed Masoud - plus their injured clubmate Mohammed al Shehhi - have been declared unavailable for the tournament by the country's football authorities. That is because the Club World Cup in December has been deemed the bigger priority by the Football Association (FA).

They are determined Wadha, who qualified for that Fifa showpiece by winning the Pro League last season, give a better account of themselves against the world's elite clubs than Al Ahli did when rubbing shoulders with the likes of Barcelona and Estudiantes last year. Therefore, the FA have declared that no Wahda players will be considered for selection for the Gulf Cup, so that the Abu Dhabi side will be in prime condition for their Club World Cup opener against Hekari United, from Papua New Guinea, on December 8.

That is a blow for Katanec, especially given that Matar is one of the team's first-choice forwards. On top of that, the national team will be denied the services of several younger members of their squad who will be playing for the Olympic team at the Asian Games in China from November 7-25. That means the exciting Al Ahli striker Ahmed Khalil, captain of country's Under 19s, will be ruled out of the Gulf Cup along with the Baniyas trio of Mohammed Fawzi, Amer Abdulrahman and Theyab Awana. Hamdam al Kamali, captain of the Olympic team, is barred on two fronts as he also plays for Wahda.

It spells trouble for the national side in Yemen if the evidence presented by a near-full-strength line-up last night is any guide. Katanec's men were outshone by a Chile side which included only Mark Gonzalez, the left winger, from those who started their last serious engagement - the World Cup last-16 defeat by Brazil in South Africa. The coach said his players' attitude was all wrong after a 2-0 defeat in which his most impressive performer was one of the Wadha non-travellers. Masoud took on the role of dead-ball specialist and his accuracy from free kicks and corners looked the most likely route to a UAE goal before he was withdrawn at half time.

Matar did not last that long as he limped off injured midway through the first half and is now unlikely to be utilised in the second leg of a friendly double header against Angola on Tuesday. Matar, for so long his country's most influential player, looked jaded and did not cause a single threat to the Chile defence before departing. Khamis, the other Wadha selection, will want to forget his most noticeable contribution - a reckless foul on Emilio Hernandez which allowed Roberto Cereceda to give Chile an early lead from the penalty spot.

About 200 South American visitors were in the stadium to acclaim that strike and an even better clinching goal by Pedro Morales eight minutes before the interval. The Chileans were only just outnumbered by the home fans at Zayed Sports City. 

wjohnson@thenational.ae