Thu, 28 Oct, 2021
Canberra: The role of coach Mahdi Ali has been crucial to the United Arab Emirates success and could be the x-factor the Gulf nation needs to go far in the AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015, according to defender Walid Abbas.
Former finalists the UAE crashed out of the continental championship at the group stages in their last appearance four years ago, but after a dominant 4-1 defeat of Gulf Cup champions Qatar on Sunday at Canberra Stadium the Emiratis are now early Group C leaders.
And while there has been much said about the potency of a forward line that contains Ali Mabkhout, Ahmed Khalil and Omar Abdulrahman, centre-back Abbas believes much of the credit goes to the man at the helm who has been involved within the national team set-up for over a decade.
“Mahdi Ali motivates us a lot, sits with us, talks with us and makes the group more competitive as a team,” said Abbas, who was part of the side that won the 2013 Gulf Cup under Ali.
“I have played under him for four years now and of course he has changed the team a lot and has had his hand in guiding the team and making us successful.
“If there was a foreign coach instead of Ali it would not be the same.”
Ali coached the U-16, U-19 and U-20 sides prior to leading the U-23 national team to the 2012 London Olympics. As well as taking the 2013 Gulf Cup title, Ali’s side went undefeated in qualifying for their ninth AFC Asian Cup appearance before a third-place finish at the 2014 Gulf Cup in November.
The UAE’s next test will be a meeting with Bahrain on Thursday and Abbas has pleasant memories from their last meeting which came when their forthcoming opponents were hosts of the 2013 Gulf Cup.
“It was a difficult game to play in but we won in the end and after winning that game we qualified for the second stage of the Gulf Cup, a tournament we went on to win.
“That competition is a very good and happy memory for me, of course,” recalled Abbas, who is hoping for a touch of déjà vu Down Under with Qatar and Bahrain having both been beaten opponents in the group stage of the regional championship two years ago.
“I hope the scenario will be just like the 2013 Gulf Cup, that would be great, of course. We have a good chance here if we qualify for the second round, I think.
“Our aim is to be first in this group, even though Iran is a very tough team for our final game. After that, in the quarter-finals all the teams are strong, it wouldn’t matter if we played against Japan or any team, they are all tough.
“But before that, we have to concentrate now on our game against Bahrain.”
While a win for the UAE will cement their place in the quarter-finals, Bahrain know that unless they secure a positive result of their own, then their tournament will effectively be over. However, Abbas does not believe this means Bahrain will go for all-out attack.
“I think Bahrain will look to close the spaces against us, especially in this game. They know we have fast players who can deal with the situations in attack and so they will play on the counterattack in my opinion,” said Abbas.
“Bahrain have a good team, especially after the Gulf Cup (when) they brought in some new players. Four or five new players have changed their team since that tournament.
“They have to win and they will play tough, I think it will be an equal game but it’ll be a bit difficult for them as it will be for us. But we hope to win, take the three points, and qualify for the next round.”