x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UAE rely on backing of home fans

The UAE will turn to Egyptian football fans for support as they prepare to take on Costa Rica in the quarter-finals of the U20 World Cup tomorrow.

SUEZ// The UAE will turn to Egyptian football fans for support as they prepare to take on Costa Rica in the quarter-finals of the U20 World Cup tomorrow. Mahdi Ali's side, who clinched their last-eight place with a 2-1 win over Venuzuela on Wednesday, were expecting to face Egypt, the host nation, but will instead take on the Central American nation who silenced 80,000 home supporters with a 2-0 win.

The match will be played at the Cairo International Stadium with a place in the last four - against Brazil or Germany - at stake. Ali is optimistic, and glad the Egyptian fans will be cheering for his side rather than against them, as he had expected. "Egypt are the home team and they would have had the whole country supporting them," said Ali . "There would have been 80,000 fans packing the stadium and it would not have been easy for us. There would have been tremendous pressure on the team.

"God willing, we will try to perform better than what we have done. I am confident that with the support of the Egyptian masses and the UAE fans, we will go through to the next round." Ahmed Khalil scored Wednesday's winner seven minutes from time, just more than an hour after Mohammed Ahmad had cancelled out Jose Rondon's 12th-minute opener. Ali's team have enjoyed considerable support in Egypt, both in Alexandria and Suez, but playing against the home team would have left them without many cheerleaders.

Now, with Egypt out of the tournament and the UAE carrying the Arab flag, home fans are expected to turn out in numbers to back the UAE. Some will hope the Asian champions can avenge their team's loss to Costa Rica. The Egyptian fans did not seem to have an affect on the Concacaf champions in their last game, but Ali is hoping his team can succeed where the hosts failed. "I think Costa Rica played a very good game against Egypt and mentally they were very strong," he said.

"They knew what to do. They looked relaxed and had the will to win. That's why they were successful. "We will study their team and plan our strategies for them. We will have to go back to the drawing board and make a fresh start. Like I have said before, every game is a final. What we, both UAE and Costa Rica, have done in the last game will not count. So we just need to forget about this round and focus on the task at hand."

Ali's optimism also stems from UAE's record against Central and South American teams. Both their wins in Egypt have come against countries from that region. They defeated Honduras 1-0 in the group stage and have now overcome Venezuela. "Teams from Central and South America generally have good technique and their players are fast and creative," said Ali. "We play a similar style of football and that's why we are a bit more comfortable against teams from that region. We have good experience against those teams and know how to deal with them. Hopefully, we can do it again on Saturday.

"I'd like to thank the fans for all their support, they really helped, I would also like to thank my players. It was a fantastic team effort and the players complimented each other very well, helping out all across the park. "At the break, with the scores level at 1-1, I told my players that we have 45 minutes to win this game and they should do everything they can, and they raised their game accordingly."

arizvi@thenational.ae