x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UAE's Fawzi not taking chances

The midfielder and Under 23 captain is wary of familiar foes Kuwait in their last-16 match at the Asian Games.

The UAE national team train ahead of their last-16 match against Kuwait at the Asian Games in Guanghzou, China.
The UAE national team train ahead of their last-16 match against Kuwait at the Asian Games in Guanghzou, China.

The UAE face familiar opposition as they try to reach the quarter-finals of the Asian Games in Guanghzou, China, today.

They are taking on Kuwait in the last-16 encounter, whom the Under 23 side met twice en-route to winning the Gulf Cup in Qatar in August, while the senior side notched up a 3-0 friendly victory at Al Wahda's Al Nahyan Stadium in early September.

Mohammed Fawzi, the captain of the U23 Gulf Cup-winning side - who will line-up for the UAE today - is optimistic that being so familiar with their opponents will give them an advantage.

"Knowing an opponent doesn't guarantee a win but at least we know what to expect from them," said the Baniyas midfielder.

"It is always difficult when you play against an opponent you don't know, like in the group opener, when we were held to a 1-1 draw by Hong Kong.

"Against Kuwait, we will not take it easy because we are in the knockout format of the competition," he added.

Fawzi scored twice in their 3-0 demolition of Bangladesh and the UAE completed the group stage with another superb 3-0 result over Uzbekistan, one of the fancied teams in Group E.

The UAE topped the group by a better goal difference after finishing on seven points with Hong Kong.

The UAE have not reached the last eight in their previous five appearances in the Asian Games and Fawzi believes this team has the potential to go all the way if they can successfully navigate their way past Kuwait today.

"We are looking at the 2012 London Olympics as our goal and this competition is a perfect benchmark," he said.

"We understand the importance of the Asian Games, where 24 of the best Asian nations are competing."

The UAE Olympic team have been the most successful age-group side to emerge in the country.

They won the U16 Gulf Cup in 2006, a maiden U19 Asian Cup in 2008 and the U23 Gulf Cup in August.

They also reached the quarter-finals of the U20 World Cup in Egypt last year.

Mahdi Ali, the coach, believes the bond that the players have forged over the past five years is one of the key elements to their success.

"It is not only the time they have spent together as a team, but they are also some of the best talents to emerge from the production lines," said Ali.

"It certainly helps as a team when they have played together for a long time and, more importantly, as a successful team.

"Kuwait are not a team we can take for granted.

"They must have improved from the last time we played them. It wasn't easy games when we met them twice in the Gulf Cup, and they were very close results as the scores would suggest.

"The important thing is to win this game. The players have come out well from the group stage and hopefully continue with the same kind of performance. They have had a good break before the second round and they are all in good condition, both mentally and physically."

If the UAE advance, they will meet the winners of today's game between North Korea and Vietnam for a place in the semi-finals.

 

apassela@thenational.ae