Under 23 side has been placed in a tough Group B along with Australia, Iraq and Uzbekistan and have to balance World Cup qualifying games as well.
UAE Olympic team face tricky group for London 2012 qualification
Mahdi Ali has acknowledged that his team will have to do things the hard way if they are to reach the 2012 London Olympics.
The UAE coach was in Malaysia yesterday as his side were drawn in a heavyweight Group B for the final round of qualifying.
With only the top team in each of the three, four-team groups guaranteed a place at the Games, the Olympic side will have to get past Australia, Iraq and Uzbekistan.
“Our group is the most difficult one,” Ali told the Asian Football Confederation’s website.
“The Olympic qualifiers are always difficult and the most prepared team will qualify. The team which wants to qualify must be ready to beat the strong teams.”
Australia were one of three top-seeded teams in the draw – along with Japan and South Korea – and some of their squad were part of the team that beat the UAE 4-2 in extra time at the Under 19 Asian Championship quarter-final in China last year.
The UAE were surprisingly seeded in the bottom pot – along Malaysia and Oman – despite the fact they reached the Asian Games final last year where they lost to Japan.
The second-place team in each group will take part into a play-off at a centralised venue from March 25-29, with the winner going on to meet an African representative for a berth at London 2012.
Rashid Al Zaabi, who travels with the Olympic team as manager, said that, while the group is possibly the toughest of the three, the UAE have done well to avoid South Korea and Japan.
“Perhaps if you look at Group C – Malaysia, Syria, Japan – then it is a different level, but Group A [South Korea’s] is also not an easy group. It’s very difficult, but some times a tougher group pushes people to reach the next level,”
“In my opinion, I prefer to face Australia. Our players have good technique, they can play against Australia, who are strong and physical.
“Japan and South Korea are very fast.”
Ali coached the UAE to the Asian title in 2008 and the vast majority of that squad make up the Olympic team, where the coach must select Under 23 players with the option of picking three over-age members.
He was given a boost on Wednesday when the Football Association revealed that the 2011/12 league season would not start until October, allowing him time to prepare his squad for their opening match in Australia on September 21.
However, he faces a different problem in the fact that a large part of his first team – such as his captain, Hamdan Al Kamali, and his star striker, Ahmed Khalil – are also part of the senior squad.
If they beat India in a two-legged qualifier for the 2014 World Cup at the end of this month, then the next stage of qualification will begin in September, around the same time as the Olympic team’s first match.
“Currently there are 11 players in the Olympic team who are with the UAE first team. That makes it more difficult for us, as the World Cup qualifiers are being played at the same time. We need to co-ordinate carefully for both,” Ali said.
“But I hope the work we did in the last four years pays off and we qualify for London.”
Al Zaabi said the two coaching set ups – the Olympic team and Srecko Katanec’s seniors – would work together to prepare the players.
While the FA have made sure Ali’s players are free from domestic duties, the UAE coach said Australia may have a problem calling up their best players, many of whom play in Europe.
The Olympic qualifiers are not Fifa sanctioned and therefore clubs are not obliged to release players.
“I feel that Japan, South Korea and Australia will struggle a bit, because they have a number of players who ply their trade in Europe,” Ali said.
Aurelio Vidmar, the Australia coach, admitted he may have to select mainly domestic players.
“Our team will be heavily weighted with Hyundai A-League players, but we will try our hardest to get overseas-based players released, too,” Vidmar said. “We will certainly do our best to get the strongest possible squad for every match.”
Match one: September 21
Match two: November 23
Match three: November 27
Match four: February 5
Match five: February 22
Match six: March 14