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Ali confident of Saudi Arabia’s chances

Bangkok: Mukhtar Ali may be a new addition to the Saudi Arabia squad but the midfielder is determined to make an impact for the young Green Falcons in the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020.

Ali was not part of the Saudi Arabia squad for the Qualifiers last March, with the West Asian side sealing a spot in the Finals as one of the best four second-placed teams. 

Saudi Arabia are, however, mainstays in the AFC U23 Championship - having featured in all three previous editions - and Chelsea youth academy graduate Ali is excited to be part of their Thailand 2020 campaign.

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“I’ve been with the squad for a couple of years - on and off - and we have a really good team with a really good coach,” says Ali, who plays for reigning champions Al Nassr in the Saudi Pro League.   

“I’m honoured (to be selected), it’s a special thing to represent my country. It shows that the coach believes in me. I’ve played with a lot of the players here before, and we’re confident.

“The team is very confident, and we believe in ourselves. There’s a family feeling here and I like it. We’ve been in Malaysia, now in Thailand, and we can’t wait to get started.

“I’ve played in Europe since I was young, so maybe the coaching is a little bit different with the players starting out younger, but the technical level of these players is the same (as me). I don’t see myself as someone higher or something. We’re all one team, and we’re fighting for the country.”

Saudi Arabia have failed to progress past the group stage since their second-place finish in the inaugural edition played in 2014, and must face 2016 champions Japan in their opening Group B tie, with Qatar and Syria to follow but head coach Saad Ali Alshehri has told the players to believe in themselves.

“It will be a good challenge for us. Like I said, we’re confident and we believe in ourselves. The coach is doing everything he can to help us and we believe in him and all the staff.

“He’s a really good coach. A lot of players have been with him since they were young and they trust him. Obviously I’m a new player in the squad but I’ve learned a lot from him already.”

Photos: Saudi Arabian Football Federation, AFC

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