AL AIN // The UAE trained under the lights at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Wednesday, 24 hours out from their crucial clash with Japan that sparks the resumption of their bid to make World Cup 2018.
A squad hit by injury and suspension were put through their paces in front of the UAE-based media in attendance. Some erstwhile members of the Japanese media corps scattered around the otherwise empty stand, too. They would have struggled to glean anything revelatory from the session.
For the UAE, and in a way for Japan, Ahmed Khalil represents the main concern. Al Ahli’s striker, the current top scorer in World Cup qualification with 15 goals, is regarded by many visitors this week as just as dangerous as Omar Abdulrahman, the reigning Asian Player of the Year.
More on UAE v Japan
■ 2018 World Cup qualifying: UAE host crucial match with Japan in Al Ain
■ Mahdi Ali: UAE manager has selection headaches
■ Vahid Halilhodzic: Japan manager keen to 'avoid bad refereeing'
Khalil, who is nursing a calf injury, joined in with the stretches and the rondos in the period open for 15 minutes to the media. Dressed in a black training top while his teammates all wore blue, there was a distinctive quality to Khalil – as so often there has been this campaign. The UAE need him fit and raring to go.
There are question marks as well regarding Ismail Ahmed.
The UAE defender is a major doubt for Japan, and did little to allay those fears as he trained away from the group, jogging gingerly around the pitch perimeter. At least during that 15-minute spell.
By that time, Japan’s players were inside, fielding questions from the 100 or more media representatives that have followed their national team here.
The pitch is smaller than they are used to, they said, suggesting the UAE will attempt to squeeze their space and restrict the flow of their game.
At this stage, every little detail counts.
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE
Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport