Thu, 28 Oct, 2021
Brisbane: Three-time AFC Asian Cup veteran Majed Naser believes the United Arab Emirates can go all the way to the top as Mahdi Ali's men take on defending champions Japan in their first quarter-final appearance since 1996, when they lost to Saudi Arabia in the final.
UAE were narrow runners-up in Group C behind Iran, who knocked the Emiratis from the top spot with an injury-time 1-0 victory on Monday, avoiding Javier Aguirre's Japan in the second round.
UAE will face the holders in Sydney on Friday but Al Ahli goalkeeper Naser has said Ali's side remain unafraid and feels that a talented young core including Omar Abdulrahman, Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil can take the nation to the January 31 final for the second time - and then better their feat from 1996.
"The Japanese team are one of the best in Asia but our focus hasn't been on Japan or any other team," said Naser. "The focus has been on ourselves and our group. We don't care about the others because we're focused on our goal, which is to get to the final.
"There's a big difference between this competition and the previous competitions in Qatar or Vietnam. At this competition, we have a chance to go to the final. Our players are experienced and we have good technical players like Omar, Ali and Ahmed. On top of that, we have teamwork.
"We are one of the top five teams here after Iran, Japan, Korea and Uzbekistan. We are looking to make the top three."
With the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers to start this summer, Australia 2015 serves as the ideal opportunity to scout the opposition.
Naser said lifting the Asian Cup has been a career goal of his, but helping UAE qualify for the World Cup is another; UAE's lone appearance at the World Cup was in 1990, when they lost all three games and conceded 11 goals.
"I have two dreams - the first for UAE to become Asian champions, and the second for us to get to the 2018 World Cup and to play in it," said Naser.
"This Asian Cup will give good experience to all our players for the World Cup qualification for Russia in 2018. If we play against Iran, Japan, Iraq or whoever here, the experience will help us.
“The Asian Cup is the top competition in Asia and the best players are here. But like I said, our goal is to get to the final so we are focusing on this Asian Cup for the time being.”