x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE coach Mahdi Ali relishes challenge of tough fixtures

The new coach hopes players will develop more confidence from tonight's friendly against Bahrain as they await this week's Gulf Cup draw.

Mahdi Ali has been in charge of the UAE national football team for three friendly matches. Pawan Singh / The National
Mahdi Ali has been in charge of the UAE national football team for three friendly matches. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // Having tested his team against three of Asia's strongest sides, Mahdi Ali will lead his team out against familiar rivals Bahrain tonight at Al Wasl's Zabeel Stadium.

Since taking over the reins of the senior national team, Mahdi Ali has played three friendly matches with three different results. The first was in Japan, against the top-ranked team in Asia, and the Emirates impressed their hosts in a 1-0 defeat.

In the second match, they cruised to a comfortable 3-0 win over Kuwait and last week, they shared the spoils with Uzbekistan following a 2-2 draw.

"Since I started in 2008 [with the youth team], I have always preferred to play against strong teams," said Mahdi Ali. "It benefits the team – improves the speed and pace of our game. Also, when you get a good result, it is a confidence boost for the players."

Tonight's game against Bahrain, who are one place higher in the Fifa rankings than the UAE at No 115, and with the match coming just two days before Thursday's draw for the 21st Gulf Cup, promises to be an enticing encounter.

The Gulf Cup, which kicks off on January 5, will be Mahdi Ali's first official tournament as coach of the senior team. The hosts Bahrain have been placed in Group A while defending champions Kuwait are in Group B. The other six will learn of their group in two days.

"This is the fourth game for me and I hope we can achieve our targets from this game," Mahdi Ali said. "I know it is a bit early for me to evaluate, but personally I am happy with our performance in the three games we have played."

Saeed Al Kathiri has been one of the more impressive performers during Mahdi Ali's short reign, and the Al Wahda striker said: "Our goal is to play against strong opponents and improve the status of our team in the world rankings.

"These matches have also helped the coaching staff convey their ideas to the players and define the roles for each one of us. This will certainly lead to greater harmony and understanding between the players."

Teammates at Al Wahda, Al Kathiri and Ismail Matar were impressive up front in the game against Uzbekistan, combining well to each score a goal.

Matar, however, will be unavailable for tomorrow's match since he has left for Germany to complete his treatment for a knee injury, which has been troubling him in recent times.

Matar's absence will most likely mean Ali Mabkhout, the Al Jazira striker, will be paired up front with Al Kathiri.

"For us, it is good to gather once a month and play friendly matches, bring the team together, try different things for the future as well as give an opportunity to players who have joined the team recently," Mahdi Ali said.

"For every game, we are trying to call two or three new players so that once the official competitions start, we know which players can be a part of our squad."

arizvi@thenational.ae

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