x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UAE football team’s busy year kicks off with Armenia friendly

Nine friendlies for Mahdi Ali’s men, first of which starts on Wednesday, writes Amith Passela.

Mahdi Ali, left, the UAE coach, speaks with players during a training session in Switzerland. Courtesy UAE FA
Mahdi Ali, left, the UAE coach, speaks with players during a training session in Switzerland. Courtesy UAE FA

Mahdi Ali, the UAE coach, would be looking to extend his side’s unbeaten run to 21 matches when they face Armenia on Tuesday night in Geneva, Switzerland.

It will be the UAE’s first game in nearly three months since the 1-1 away draw against Uzbekistan in the final group stage match in the Asian Cup qualifiers on March 5.

The game against Armenia is the first of two friendlies during the team’s camp in Switzerland, which began on May 20. They also play Georgia on June 3.

“The camp in Switzerland is a refreshing one and has given the players the energy and motivation to regroup after a long and tough domestic season,” Mohanad Salem, the Al Ain centre-back, said.

“The FA has made us feel comfortable and relaxed.

“The camp has provided the players an excellent opportunity to focus on the national team’s upcoming assignments. “This game against Armenia is an important one for us. As always, we want to win this game by implementing the tactics and strategies of the coach to continue our positive run and build on this for the future challenges.”

Mahdi Ali has included two debutants in his 24-man squad: 18-year-old Al Jazira forward Ahmed Al Ghilani and midfielder Ali Salmeen, 19, of Al Wasl.

Armenia arrived in Geneva on Saturday and will also play Algeria in Sion on May 31 and Germany in Mainz on June 6.

Armenia are also preparing for their 2016 European Championship qualifying campaign where they are in Group I alongside Portugal, Denmark, Serbia and Albania.

Ranked 33 in the world, they pose a serious threat to the UAE’s unbeaten run, having held Italy to a 2-2 draw in Naples in their last competitive match.

The UAE’s camp in Switzerland is the first step of their preparation for their title defence of the Gulf Cup in Saudi Arabia from November 13 to 26 and then their Asian Cup campaign, which starts on January 9 in Australia.

The UAE have nine friendlies lined up in total before then, including Norway on August 27, Belgium on September 4, and Morocco four days later in the second phase of their camp.

In the third stage of their preparation, they will play Australia on October 10 and Uzbekistan on October 14 and two friendlies in Saudi Arabia on November 4 and 7 against teams still to be named.

They travel to Australia and play Jordon on December 31 and Kuwait on January 4 ahead of the Asian Cup in which they are drawn in Group C alongside Iran, Qatar and Bahrain.

apassela@thenational.ae

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