Zaccheroni hails much-improved UAE display
Abu Dhabi: United Arab Emirates head coach Alberto Zaccheroni was grateful to be able to put his side’s opening day woes well and truly behind the host nation following Thursday’s vital 2-0 win over India at the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019.
The 1996 runners-up were held to a 1-1 draw by Bahrain on Matchday One, a result which raised doubts as to the genuine title credentials of a side which also finished third at the last continental extravaganza in Australia.
However, goals in either half from Khalfan Mubarak and Ali Mabkhout saw the Emiratis overcome a resilient India to go top of Group A and breathe new life into their bid to reach the tournament’s Round of 16.
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“I think our first game and performance against Bahrain was a rather deceiving one,” declared the Italian tactician who guided Japan to the 2011 AFC Asian Cup title.
“We were very disappointed not to get the win in that match, but against India we started very well from the beginning, and our performance was gradually evolving and getting better throughout the match."
“We faced some difficulties at times against a very good and fast India side. Thankfully I made some changes ahead of the second half and, after the break, the team’s display was very different as we managed to enjoy better possession, we threatened more and were solid in defence.
“I congratulate my players for their efforts, they truly deserved the victory.”
The UAE’s progress is, however, still far from assured, with just one point separating them from India in second and third-placed Thailand who they will meet in their final group stage match on Monday.
Given what is at stake, there is little room for error, and Zaccheroni has admitted that he now needs to study the Southeast Asians closely in order to prepare his side fully for what is expected to be another tough test.
“We admit that our defence has not been entirely effective, but the general performance was good and winning with a great spirit was very important,” he said.
“Following their loss to India, the Thailand team changed their coach. However, they then went on to change their style and tactics when they beat Bahrain. I now need to study Thailand closely in order to prepare my team for what will be a difficult match.”
Meanwhile, opposite number Stephen Constantine was left to rue the missed opportunities and bad fortune which ultimately cost India the match.
“I think we created enough chances, especially in the first half, to win two games never mind one. The problems is, when you do not convert them you tend to pay for it,” lamented the 56-year-old.
“I think we deserved a draw from this game at the very least, but again if you do not convert your chances you pay the price.
“The boys gave absolutely everything. We hit the bar twice, there were a couple of good saves by their goalkeeper and we had a couple of opportunities from which we could have scored.”
Nevertheless, with three points from their two games, India remain in contention for a place in the knockout phase, and Constantine believes that his side will be more than ready for their crucial final group stage game against Bahrain.
“I think we will give anyone a game, I think that is clear. At the end of the day though we lost,” he said.
“However, we will pick ourselves up and get ready for the next game. We look forward to the Bahrain game when we will hopefully get the result that sees us qualify.”
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