x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UAE coach defends goal-shy striker Ahmed Khalil

Sreko Katanec has jumped to the defence of Al Ahli striker Ahmed Khalil, saying there is too much expectation of the 19-year-old striker.

Srecko Katanec, the UAE coach, says there is too much pressure on the team's 19-year-old striker Ahmed Khalil.
Srecko Katanec, the UAE coach, says there is too much pressure on the team's 19-year-old striker Ahmed Khalil.

DOHA // Srecko Katanec has jumped to the defence of Ahmed Khalil after criticism of the young striker for being the main culprit for the UAE's lack of goals.

Fans were hoping Khalil, the 2008 Asian Youth Player of the Year, would score the goals to fire them into the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup, but he has performed poorly so far.

Katanec, however, was quick to back the Al Ahil forward, 19, ahead of the team's must-win game against Iran today.

"We must take care of Ahmed," Katanec said. "He played with the Under 19 team, he played with the Olympic team and now he is here with us. He also has to play for his club Al Ahli.

"He has been used too much in the last three months. For a young player, it is too much. I am sure in the future he will do good.

"He is under pressure, but he is not alone on the field. Other players also have chances to score. He is certainly the future of UAE. I am satisfied with how he works and how he performs. The best strikers in the world, in Europe, they miss chances."

The UAE's forward line as a whole have come in for criticism, having failed to score in five of their last six games in competitive football.

To complicate matters for Katanec, Khalil missed Monday's training session due to cramps and was admitted to a hospital later in the night with a high temperature. He was discharged after a check-up.

Subait Khater, who was injured in a collision with an Iraq player in the last game, also missed training, but Katanec is confident both will be available for the Iran match. It could be Khater's last game for the UAE as he will retire after the tournament.

Katanec denied that he was considering picking Saeed al Kathiri, the bustling Al Wahda striker, ahead of Khalil, fit or not.

"About the strikers, Ahmed [Khalil] plays his part. He fights and he is the best we have," Katanec said. "Regarding al Kathiri, he will get his chance. He does not play at his club much, so it is really difficult for me to know how he will do. Between these matches, we don't have a lot of time to train.

"But I hope I will not have to put al Kathiri on the field. I prefer that he stays on the bench and we score goals with Ahmed."

The UAE need to beat Iran tonight, and hope that North Korea triumph over Iraq by fewer goals.

Iran have already qualified for the quarter-finals and will top the group and the three-time champions could well rest their first-choice players.

Katanec, however, does not believe that will make things any easier for his side.

"Which players they play, we don't know. We saw so many friendly matches and they had different players," he said.

"So they have 23 players and these players are the best in the country.

"I have a lot of respect for Iran. They are the best team in our group and they already have six points.

"So it will be another very difficult match for us."

The options up front

Ahmed Khalil
The 2008 Asian Youth Player of the Year has been Srecko Katanec’s first-choice striker, but he has looked woefully out of touch. He started both the games, but was replaced towards the end after missing a number of opportunities. Has two Pro League goals for Al Ahli this season.

Ismail Matar

Matar has played both games behind the lone-striker Khalil and has been impressive in the role. Should count himself a bit unlucky not to be on the scoring list; had a couple of really good efforts against North Korea kept out.

Saeed al Kathiri
The Al Wahda frontman was given 13 minutes in the first match against North Korea, coming off the bench to replace Khalil. The 22-year-old has been used sparingly by his club. Scored in the 2-0 friendly win over Syria on January 2.

Saeed al Kas
The most senior member of the squad at 34, al Kas came on as Khalil’s replacement in the second group match against Iraq, but failed to make an impact. Has scored two goals for Al Wasl in the Pro League this season.

Mohammed al Shehi
Al Shehi, a  left-winger, came off the bench in the 90th minute against North Korea. He is more a creator than a goalscorer himself. Has been spending a lot of time on the Wahda bench of late.

Ahmed Jumaa
The top Emirati scorer in the Pro League this season with four goals, the attacking midfielder, who plays for Al Jazira, failed to find a place in Katanec’s squad of 23 for the Asian Cup.

Faisal Khalil
The elder brother of Ahmed, Faisal has been plagued with injuries recently. Has been out of consideration for the national side since pulling out of the squad in 2008 due to “personal reasons”. Has scored twice for Ahli in Pro League.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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