2023 Asian Cup: UAE profile including fixtures, tournament record, squad and key players

All you need to know about Paulo Bento's side ahead of the 2023 tournament in Qatar

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The rescheduled 2023 Asian Cup kicks off this week in Qatar. Semi-finalists in the past two editions, the UAE begin their campaign on January 14 against Hong Kong. Group C also contains one of the tournament favourites, in Iran, and Palestine.

Here we profile the UAE as they get set for another tilt at Asian football’s most coveted trophy.


After debuting at the 1980 tournament in Kuwait, the UAE has featured at every Asian Cup since except for 2000. Participating in 10 editions in all, they have reached one final and four semi-finals. The UAE has hosted the Asian Cup twice, in 1996 and last time out, in 2019.

Best finish

Runner-up: The UAE contested the final on home soil in 1996 when they lost on penalties to Saudi Arabia. The match at Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi had finished goalless, but Yousuf Hussein and Hassan Saeed missed in the shoot-out as Saudi prevailed 4-2 on spot-kicks.

Last time out – 2019 Asian Cup

Hosts for the second time, and first in 23 years, the UAE advanced as group winners from a pool containing Bahrain, Thailand and India despite winning only one match. They needed extra-time to see off Kyrgyzstan in the last 16, emerging 3-2 victors thanks to an Ahmed Khalil penalty, then knocked out holders Australia in the quarter-finals. Ali Mabkhout scored the game’s only goal in Al Ain. However, Alberto Zaccheroni’s side were beaten 4-0 in the last four by Qatar, the eventual champions.

All-time Asian Cup top scorer

Ali Mabkhout – 9 goals (third on the tournament’s all-time list).

Memorable moment

Omar Abdulrahman’s Panenka: The UAE recorded one of the greatest wins in their history when they defeated a heavily fancied Japan in the 2015 quarter-final in Australia. Having defended incredibly for 120 minutes against the holders – the match finished 1-1 in normal time and it went to penalties. Keisuke Honda missed first for Japan, then up stepped Abdulrahman, the undoubted star of the tournament, to coolly chip the ball into the net. The UAE went on to win the shoot-out 5-4 – and eventually take bronze.

2023 group fixtures

January 14 – UAE v Hong Kong

January 18 – UAE v Palestine

January 23 – UAE v Iran


Paulo Bento Appointed in July, the former South Korea manager guided the UAE to six successive wins until Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Oman in the friendly in Abu Dhabi snapped his 100 per cent record. The Portuguese coach, who has also managed his homeland, was disappointed at the 2019 Asian Cup when South Korea exited in the quarter-finals. However, Bento led the team to the last 16 of the 2022 World Cup – the first time South Korea had advanced beyond the group stage at a global finals in 12 years.

Star man

Ali Mabkhout – Even at age 33, the Al Jazira striker remains the UAE’s go-to man. He is the country’s all-time leading scorer, with 85 goals from 115 matches and he stands alone also as the highest-scoring player in UAE top-flight history. Mabkhout’s five goals at the 2015 Asian Cup earned him the tournament’s Golden Boot.

Others to watch

Ali Kasheif – The team captain seems set to be given the nod as Bento’s No 1 goalkeeper but does face competition from Khalid Essa. Hugely experienced, Kasheif’s input, both on and off the pitch, could prove pivotal.

Ali Salmeen – The Al Wasl midfielder acts as the shield to the defence, a role he does better than anyone else in the squad, which allows the team their attacking freedom. However, keeping Salmeen fit has been a regular issue recently.

Yahya Al Ghassani – The skilful winger has grown into one of the Adnoc Pro League’s premier attackers and was integral to Shabab Al Ahli’s title win last season. Will be expected not only to supply Mabkhout, but also chip in with goals.

Breakout star

Harib Abdullah – The Shabab Al Ahli winger announced his arrival by scoring in the Asian Champions League when aged 17. Now 21, he has already proven his penchant for the big occasion, striking the winner in the 2022 World Cup qualification against South Korea and then running Australia ragged despite defeat in the play-off for the Qatar finals.

Talking point

Just how much progress has been made under Bento?

While the UAE burst out of the blocks with the new manager, registering six wins from six – the run included the opening two 2026 World Cup qualifiers – the Asian Cup represents a significant step up.

Patience is not always afforded to coaches of the national team, and those successive semi-final appearances place pressure on Bento, but it is worth remembering he has been in charge for less than six months, and in that time overseen only two competitive matches.

It will be interesting to see how quickly the UAE can implement his philosophy in the continent’s lead competition. Surely safe passage from the group, and even a run to the quarter-finals, would constitute success.

UAE squad

Goalkeepers: Ali Kasheif, Khalid Eisa, Khaled Tawhid

Defenders: Abdullah Idrees, Hashemi Hussain, Khalifa Al Hammadi, Mohamad Al-Attas, Khaled Ebraheim Al Dhanhani, Ahmed Abdulla, Abdelrahman Saleh, Bader Abaelaziz

Midfielders: Zayed Sultan, Ali Salmeen, Majid Rashid, Tahnoon Al-Zaabi, Abdulla Hamad, Yahia Nader, Mohamed Abbas, Abdalla Ramadan, Harib Abdalla Al-Maazmi

Forwards: Ali Mabkhout, Ali Saleh, Fabio Lima, Caio, Yahya Al Ghassani, Sultan Adill Alamiri

Updated: January 08, 2024, 10:05 AM