UAE striker Ahmed Khalil has called upon his teammates to “immortalise” their names in Emirati football history at this month’s Asian Cup on home soil.
The host country, staging the continent’s premier tournament for only the second time, kick off the expanded 24-team event on Saturday night, when they take on Bahrain at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium.
Drawn in Group A, the UAE will then face India and Thailand as they bid to seal one of the two spots that guarantees progress to the knockout stages.
The last time the Asian Cup took place in the Emirates, in 1996, the hosts recorded their best finish to date, coming home runners-up following defeat on penalties to Saudi Arabia in the final. However, only 11 teams participated that year.
Last time out, in Australia in 2015, the UAE finished third, with Khalil integral to his country clinching bronze. The Shabab Al Ahli Dubai club striker scored four goals, bettered only by teammate Ali Mabkhout.
However, this time Khalil is targeting the title.
"The current generation of players is in need for a new achievement that would immortalise its name in UAE football records, especially on a continental level," he said. "Winning the 2019 Asian Cup is our goal and our players are very much aware of the extent of the responsibility that they bear. They also know that everyone is eager about our team's participation in this tournament and to watch us in the final."
Khalil cited the collective as key to the UAE’s chances of success, with Alberto Zaccheroni’s men seeking to turn around mixed form that has contributed to a run of six victories from their 18 matches since the Italian was appointed as manager in October 2017.
The forward, 27, said he understands the degree of difficulty in this month’s tournament – the UAE are Asia’s eighth-ranked side – before he called upon the home fans to offer support to help drive forward their team.
“Winning the cup requires a lot of effort and concentration,” Khalil said. “I wish all the best for the players. However, victory cannot be achieved by wishes, but by serious and continuous work.
"We are all dreaming of seeing our team on the podium. But turning this dream into a reality can only be achieved by exerting more effort and working in the right way.”
The final takes place on February 1 at Zayed Sports City.
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