Dilemma facing Olympic coach Mahdi Ali ahead of Australia tie

Proven players or winning stand-ins is a decision for the coach to make ahead of the crucial qualifier for the 2012 London Games.

Mahdi Ali, the UAE coach, has a large pool of players to choose from for the Australia match.
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It is a classic coaching conundrum. Should players who have been absent for some time go back into the line-up at the earliest opportunity? Or should the 11 who won last time out go unchanged?

Mahdi Ali will be making that difficult decision on Wednesday when his UAE Under 23 team play Australia in a crucial qualifying match for the 2012 London Olympics.

Three players who have been regulars for most of the tournaments in the age-group team's rise to prominence have recently rejoined the team.

Hamdan Al Kamali, the defender, returns from the French club Lyon; Ahmed Khalil, the striker, joins after dealing with injuries at Al Ahli; and Omar Abdulrahman, the Al Ain midfielder, is back from knee surgery.

Ali must decide if they move into the first XI ahead of three players who were on the pitch in the gritty 1-0 victory over Iraq in Doha on February 5, a game that kept alive the UAE's hope for a London berth.

"It's a very tough decision," said Dr Saad Abrahim, the assistant coach of the Pro League side Ajman and a former youth coach in Iraq. "Speaking in general terms, putting in players who haven't played for a long time could mess up with something that is going well."

Al Kamali has not played a match since January 15, when he was at Al Wahda and hoping to arrange a loan to Lyon.

Josef Hickersberger, the Wahda coach, said the young defender had not been playing well before he left for France.

"Maybe it was because of the psychological stress he had over whether his transfer will go through, but he didn't train as much as before and he didn't train as hard," Hickersberger said.

Khalil has not played in a first-team game with Ahli since January 5 and has been dealing with muscle injuries.

Abdulrahman had two operations on a knee last summer and has played 90 minutes only once for Al Ain this season, against Emirates in an Etisalat Cup match on February 3.

None of the three were in the team that defeated Iraq.

Kefah Al Kaabi, a television and radio analyst, concedes "messing with success" is not always a good idea, but he believes the Emirati trio will be in Ali's starting line-up in the game at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.

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"Those three players are leaders in the team," Al Kaabi said. "Hamdan is the leader in defence, Omar is the leader in the midfield and Ahmed is one of the best in front. If they are in shape, they have to play.

"They were replaced in the last game, but not at the same level. We were lucky in that game. We scored an early goal and the defence did well in defending that goal, but if we play that way against Australia, we will be in trouble."

Abrahim also believes the trio will play.

"Mahdi Ali has coached these players since they were very young and he has great confidence in Hamdan and Ahmed, especially, and I think in this case he will try to get back these players, even if they haven't played for a while.

"They have experience in big games, and that is very important."