x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The pressure is off for Katanec's UAE

Given the disparity in their current world rankings, the UAE's record in Uzbekistan comes as a pleasant surprise - they have won both their previous matches in the central Asian country.

Given the disparity in their current world rankings, the UAE's record in Uzbekistan comes as a pleasant surprise - they have won both their previous matches in the central Asian country. The UAE, No 113 in the latest Fifa rankings, shocked the hosts 3-2 in a 1998 World Cup qualifier and repeated the feat four years later with a 1-0 triumph in another World Cup qualifier. Those happy memories of Tashkent will be the inspiration for Srecko Katanec's squad when they meet Uzbekistan, ranked 75th in the world, in a dead rubber qualifier for the 2011 Asian Cup at the Pakhtakor Stadium tonight in near-zero temperatures.

Both Uzbekistan and the UAE have already booked their tickets for the Doha finals in January next year, but Katanec has promised a committed game as the visitors aim to protect their record in Uzbekistan and finish top of the group with a win. "Both teams have qualified for the finals, so both teams won't feel any pressure," said Katanec, the UAE coach who has suffered just one defeat in seven games since taking over the reins of the team in June last year.

"It will help the teams to play attractive football and I anticipate a good game. There is a lot of motivation in the team, knowing a win here can only be good as we look ahead towards the next stage. "They will be playing without pressure as the outcome will not be important, so that will help them to play their natural game and show their true potential, some style and flair. The match is also important for the new players in the team as a good show in their first official match will give their confidence a massive boost.

"So this game is important for us. It is the start of our next phase of preparation for the Gulf Cup [in November] and the Asian Cup finals. A good performance in this game will give the players a head-start for those two big tournaments and I am sure they will be trying to impress and fight for the reputation of UAE football." Katanec is missing the services of key players like Ismail Matar, Obaid Khalifa and Mahmoud Khamis due to injuries, while Mohammed Qassim, their strongman in defence, is taking part in military training.

Their absence has provided first-timers such as Mohammed Salem, Yaqoub al Hosani and Ali Rabeea the chance to impress Katanec. Uzbekistan, on the other hand, have a full squad including Server Djeparov, the 2008 Asian Player of the Year, as they go out in search of their first win at home against the UAE. In fact, they have just two wins from eight matches against the Emirates, but Mirdjalal Kasimov, their manager, insists his side is giving no thought to the past results.

"If I think only of revenge, nothing good will come of it," he said. "We are thinking of how, first of all, to please the fans as it is the national team's first game this year. We are hampered by the fact that the domestic season is yet to begin and the leading clubs have only played one official match [in the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup]. Our main problem consists of lack of match time for our forwards."

arizvi@thenational.ae Uzbekistan v UAE, 5pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 1