x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Eisa Ahmed among new faces emerging for UAE national team

Al Wahda defender recalled for national team's trip to Uzbekistan in 2015 Asian Cup qualifier.

Eisa Ahmed, right, of Al Wahda tussles for the ball with Brett Holman of Al Nasr during their Arabian Gulf League match on January 6, 2014. Satish Kumar / The National
Eisa Ahmed, right, of Al Wahda tussles for the ball with Brett Holman of Al Nasr during their Arabian Gulf League match on January 6, 2014. Satish Kumar / The National

Mahdi Ali’s UAE national side could hardly have done better in 2013. They were unbeaten in 13 matches, 12 of them victories, and the other was a shoot-out win after a match with Trinidad & Tobago ended in a draw.

The Emirati side, however, continue to evolve. As they prepare for their first match since November, an Asian Cup qualifier in Tashkent on Wednesday, the side shows changes from the 2013 norm, including the Al Wahda right-back Eisa Ahmed, among the defenders in the squad.

“I got the call through the club,” Ahmed said. “We don’t get it specifically from Mahdi Ali.

“I was really surprised and happy at the same time. I felt like my dream is becoming my reality.”

The right-back, 27, has appeared for his country in the past, but he got on to the pitch only twice in 2013: the final 20 minutes of a 2-0 victory over New Zealand in the OSN Cup championship match, and the last 27 minutes of a 5-0 rout of Vietnam in an Asian Cup qualifier last year.

The team going to Uzbekistan does not show many changes from the core group of 2013, but among those who could be capped for the first time are Sharjah’s Mohammed Yousuf, who has been the toughest goalkeeper to beat in the Arabian Gulf League this season, and Ahmed Khamis, the quick little forward; Bandar Mohammed, the Al Dhafra forward; and Mohammed Nasser, the Al Wasl forward.

It was Ahmed’s efforts for Wahda, who have climbed to sixth in the league, that drew Mahdi Ali’s attention and the call for the national team.

“I honestly focused on my performances during the beginning of the season and I heard a lot of people, especially the fans, telling me that I deserve to play in the national team,” Ahmed said.

The UAE already have qualified for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia, and Ahmed said he believes they could be Asian champions for the first time.

“Yes, I am confident and believe that we can be on the top of this competition,” he said. “There are so many reasons and the top one is that we have a bunch of amazing players with the national team and the perfect staff and manager in Mahdi Ali.

“It makes me feel great honour and pride for my country. To see that an Emirati coach has made this happen is just incredible, really.”

The only time the UAE qualified for the World Cup was 24 years ago, in 1990, but Russia 2018 is a realistic goal, as well, Ahmed said.

“We have a target to achieve and that is to qualify to the World Cup. The target is not just to qualify for the World Cup and stop from there. We will do our best to leave an impression, at least,” he said.

When Mahdi Ali took over as manager, the UAE was around No 130 in the Fifa rankings. Now, they are No 58, and Ahmed said he believes they can get into top 30 if they win the Asian Cup in January.

“That would make the world notice us,” he said.

Omar Abdulrahman, who led the UAE to the 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations, is not on the team because of a leg injury. However, the diminutive Al Ain midfielder has entered the debate over who is the best footballer to play for the UAE.

Some prefer Adnan Al Talyani, who led the national team to the 1990 World Cup. Others favour Ismail Matar, Ahmed’s Wahda teammate, who was the central figure in the country’s 2003 Gulf Cup victory and a key contributor to their 2013 team. Matar also scored two of the UAE’s three goals at the London 2012 Olympics.

Ahmed has some thoughts on the debate. “I believe that every legend has his own way to prove his quality to the world,” he said. “If you ask me to pick between those three, I will pick all of them.

“Everybody made has their own history. You cannot achieve what Adnan Al Talyani did or what Ismail Matar did. I also believe that legends have their own stories and there will be no more versions of them except for when someone does something better in their own way.

“Adnan Al Talyani and Ismail Matar are legends of UAE football and they will never be forgotten.”

The UAE squad for Wednesday’s 2015 Asian Cup qualifier in Tashkent against Uzbekistan

Abdulaziz Haikal, Abdulaziz Sanqoor, Ismail Al Hammadi, Ahmed Khalil, Walid Abbas and Majid Hassan (all Al Ahli); Mohammed Fawzi and Habboush Saleh (Baniyas); Ali Kasheif, Khamis Ismail and Ali Mabkhout (Al Jazira); Khalid Eissa, Mohammed Ahmed, Ismail Ahmed, Mohammed Salem and Mohammed Abdulrahman (Al Ain); Habib Fardan (Al Nasr); Hamdan Al Kamali, Eisa Ahmed and Salem Saleh (Al Wahda); Mohammed Yousuf and Ahmed Khamis (Sharjah); Bandar Mohammed (Al Dhafra); Mohammed Nasser (Al Wasl).

sports@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter at @SprtNationalUAE