x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE's Al Kamali tells teammates to up their game against India

Hamdan Al Kamali tells his UAE teammates that they need a better performance tonight in the second-leg of their world cup qualifier against India in Delhi.

Hamdan Al Kamali, the tough-tackling and tough-talking UAE defender, has described the national side's performance in Al Ain as unacceptable, and urged his teammates to up their game and show their true potential when they meet India in Delhi tonight.

Having won the first leg of their 2014 World Cup qualifier 3-0, the UAE will take the field at the Ambedkar Stadium today, knowing the hosts will have to beat them by four goals to advance to the third round of Asian qualification for Brazil. Fifa announced yesterday that the 2014 World Cup would run from June 12 to July 13.

While most teams would be pleased with the advantage they hold, Al Kamali was disappointed with the UAE's profligacy after they failed to take advantage of their numerical superiority on Saturday night, following the dismissal of two India players inside the first 23 minutes of the game.

"We should thank God for the two penalties," said Al Kamali, who converted one of them. "They played with nine men for more than an hour, but we could not score a goal, except in the final minutes when the Indians were physically exhausted.

"If we did not get those two penalties, we would have come to India with a 1-0 result and you can only imagine the pressure we would be under. It was an unacceptable performance and we cannot be as wasteful as we were in Al Ain.

"India put up a really strong show with nine men, which means we can expect a much tougher game in front of their fans and with 11 players on the pitch."

On their last visit to India 10 years ago, the UAE were stunned 1-0 in a 2002 World Cup qualifier in Bangalore. The venue is different this time, but the 20,000-capacity Ambedkar Stadium has been a happy hunting ground for India with three tournament wins in three years, including the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup.

Crowds at the stadium are known to intimidate visiting sides and tickets for the match have almost been sold out.

With their fans behind them, Sunil Chhetri, the India striker, is hoping the hosts can put their home advantage to good use and stun the UAE.

"We are up for the task," he said. "It's just a matter of getting the act right, and once we get an early goal, we can put pressure on the opponents. We have the home advantage and will look to capitalise on that."

Despite his optimism, Chhetri must be aware of the improbability of India's task, against an opponent ranked by Fifa 44 places higher than them (UAE at 109 and India at 153).

To add to their woes, Armando Colaco will also be forced to tinker with his squad as the defender Debabrata Roy and goalkeeper Subrata Pal are suspended following their red cards in Al Ain.

The strategy for the game would be another dilemma for the India coach. With eight men in defence, the visitors managed to frustrate the UAE in the Garden City. If they go for goals tonight, it will create space for Ahmed Khalil and his fellow forwards to exploit.

"I can't ask the boys to attack all out," Colaco said. "That will leave us exposed, and if we concede early, it's over. We have to be very careful. Our defence will have to play a very compact game."

The UAE got a taste of what is to come today when hundreds of fans flocked to watch them train.

The team were also surrounded by a media jamboree, including several television channels, with most of them chasing Theyab Awana, a YouTube sensation following his back-heeled penalty against Lebanon.

The players seemed to be enjoying the attention, but Mohammed Al Shehhi said it will not detract the team from their goal of winning the match and advancing to the 20-team third round of Asian qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup.

"Their fans, the pitch and their home advantage, nothing will stand in the way of our aspirations," Al Shehhi, who scored the second penalty in Al Ain, said. "We are here to win and we are determined to put up a much better performance than the first leg."

Walid Abbas echoed that confidence, but acknowledged the defence will face a much tougher time tonight than in Al Ain.

"We will have to guard against complacency, especially us in defence," he said. "We can be sure they will come out aggressively, not just to try and win, but to please the home fans who will come out in force.

"So we will have to be really focused and make sure we respect them."

arizvi@thenational.ae