Al Mansi very pleased with UAE team so far

The under-strength UAE team are close to Gulf Cup semi-final qualification, a fact that pleases the assistant coach.

Qatar’s Bilal Rajab, left, fights for the ball with Saudi Arabia’s Ahmad Abbass in their Group A Gulf Cup match in Aden last night. Saudi Arabia equalised in last minute to deny their opponents a semi-final spot.
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Mohammed al Mansi, the UAE's assistant coach, believes the fact that little was expected from his team at the Gulf Cup alleviates most of the pressure ahead of tonight's vital match against Bahrain.

"We were not expected to go this far in a group that included Oman, the defending champions, Iraq, the Asian champions, and Bahrain, who narrowly missed out in travelling to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup," said the Tunisian.

Al Mansi travelled to Yemen with a new-look national side after the country's football chiefs decided to send the Under 23 squad to the Asian Games and left out the Al Wahda players from the event to give them enough time to prepare for the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, starting on December 8.

"We had to prepare a new squad in a very short time and all credit to these players to take us this far," al Mansi said.

"We have had a couple of good results and are now in the knockout phase of the competition.

"This team has struck a good balance. The defence, particularly Majed Naser, the goalkeeper, has been outstanding in both games.

"We also managed a few scoring chances but haven't been able to find the net in two games, so that's an area we will have to improve if we have to win."

The UAE have yet to score in the tournament, but even a third draw should take them into the semi-finals provided Iraq, who top Group B, beat Oman in tonight's other game. But if Oman win, the UAE will need a victory to qualify.

"Everything is possible in this situation," al Mansi said. "We must try to win this game and then hope for a favourable result from the other game."

Bahrain have no choice but to go for the win, as they are bottom of the group with just one point, and the UAE will be prepared for an offensive game plan from their opponents.

"Indeed Bahrain will play to win and so will we," al Mansi added. "This group is still wide open and even Iraq progressing beyond the group stage is unsure. So they will be difficult games for all four teams."

The was heartbreak for Bruno Metsu, the former UAE manager, in Group A yesterday as his Qatar side conceded a last-minute equaliser against Saudi Arabia that denied them a semi-final berth. To make matters worse, it was an own goal - from Hamed Zaher.

Qatar had only taken the lead on 85 minutes, through Ibrahim al Ganim, and looked like taking up a spot in the semi-finals along with Kuwait, who thrashed the group whipping boys Yemen 3-0.

The hosts lost all their games, conceded nine and scored just once.

It means that if the UAE win their group, they will face Saudi Arabia, who denied them a semi-final spot in 2009. Second place would give the Emirates a more enticing match with Kuwait.