x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

UAE ready to take on North Korea in Olympic qualifier at Al Ain

Our players are recovered and ready, says coach Ali, as a draw will suffice against their jet-lagged rivals unaccustomed to high temperatures.

The UAE, in white, hold a one-goal advantage over their opponents North Korea.
The UAE, in white, hold a one-goal advantage over their opponents North Korea.

AL AIN // The Olympic team plan to take advantage of a weary North Korea side, who will be sapped by a long journey and the summer heat, when they play the second leg of their qualifier for the London 2012 Olympics at the Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium tonight.

Mahdi Ali's team hold a one-goal lead from Sunday's first leg in Pyongyang and only need a draw to progress to the Asian group stage starting in September.

While Ali's team were able to acclimatise for the match in Korea by travelling to China 12 days in advance of the tie for a training camp, the Koreans arrived in the capital on Tuesday after a 20-hour flight. "The players are still recovering," Kim Myong Chol, the Korea media officer, said. "The weather is also very hot and it will be a very difficult game for us as we are already one goal down.

"But that is not going to prevent us from playing an attacking game. And our players also have the will to win."

Although the fitness levels of the UAE team will also be tested by the plus 30°C temperature at kick-off time, Ali knows his side do not have to chase the game.

"The weather conditions will have an effect on players from both teams," Ali said. "It is all about mental strength and my players may be mentally more prepared than the Koreans.

"I wouldn't know for sure but we are well prepared to play under any conditions.

"All the players are ready. They have recovered well from our journey to North Korea after a short camp in China. We also play against a team we are now more familiar with and better prepared for it.

"Of course, we have a slight advantage going into this game with a one-goal lead and playing at home, but we are still not in the comfort zone.

"Our game plan has and will always be as it has been in the last five years under me. We play to win.

"We may make a few adjustments tactically to have a balanced approach with the attack and defence, yet winning will be our objective."

Ali has a full squad at his disposal and is expected to field the same line-up that won on Sunday.

The Koreans have also arrived with their strongest squad after reporting no new injury concerns after the shock home defeat. They know they need to score if they are to stand any chance of progressing.

"The UAE defence was solid when we played them at home," Kim said. "They also had some players with high individual skills. These are areas we have been working on for this away game."

The winner of this tie will advance to the group stage in which 12 teams will be divided into three groups with the top team from each earning direct qualification for the London Games next year. The runners up will go into a play-off round - at a neutral venue - and the winner will then play a two-legged qualifier against Africa's fourth-place team.

apassela@thenational.ae