Ali Mabkhout lack of game time due to 'technical and tactical' reasons, coaches say

UAE's record scorer has yet to feature at the 2023 Asian Cup despite injury to Sultan Adil

UAE's Ali Mabkhout trains in Abu Dhabi ahead of the Asia Cup in Qatar. The Al Jazira striker has yet to feature at the tournament. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Ali Mabkhout’s lack of game time at the Asian Cup is because of “technical and tactical” reasons, according to the UAE coaching staff.

Mabkhout, the country’s all-time leading goalscorer, has not featured at all during the tournament in Qatar, as the national team progressed to the knockouts by finishing second in Group C.

The Al Jazira striker, Golden Boot winner in Australia in 2015, was an unused substitute in the UAE’s first two matches, a 3-1 win against Hong Kong and the 1-1 draw with Palestine.

Sultan Adil, the 19-year-old forward, was preferred in attack by manager Paulo Bento, and responded with goals in both games.

However, Mabkhout was not named in the squad for Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat against group winners Iran, even with Adil ruled out for up to 10 days with a knee injury.

Despite the loss, the UAE sealed a runner-up spot and therefore their place in the last 16, where they face Tajikistan on Sunday.

On Mabkhout’s absence, assistant coach Sergio Costa said: “The reason is technical, tactical. We prepare our match with the players that for us give more guarantees and the starting XI that we started were the starting 11 players we brought for the match. And we think that it was correct.”

Team manager Yasser Salim added: “Ali Mabkhout is one of the most disciplined players in the squad. He is motivating all his teammates all the time, such as Sultan Adil and all the young players.

“There are absolutely no problems with Ali Mabkhout, and the decision to keep him on the bench or outside is purely technical by the coach. And we respect the coach. It’s his call.”

Bento, meanwhile, will be back on the touchline for the last-16 match against Tajikistan at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. The Portuguese, appointed UAE manager last July, had to watch the Iran clash from the stands following his red card late on against Palestine.

The UAE will be favourites to progress to a third successive Asian Cup quarter-final, with tournament debutants Tajikistan the surprise package in Group A. On Monday, they defeated Lebanon 2-1 to finish second to hosts Qatar.

Costa, though, baulked at suggestions the UAE have an easier route to the competition's latter stages than if they had been on the other side of the draw.

“This competition already proved there are not easier groups, easier teams,” he said. “All the teams are competing really well for each match. We can see all the groups that some surprises are happening.

“This means that all the teams are improving – and this is good for Asian football.”

Asked if the UAE were already aware of Tajikistan’s qualities, Costa added: “Yes – we are preparing since the beginning of the competition and putting into practice our scouting programme. We already knew a lot of teams, the possible opponents that we are going to face. And Tajikistan are one of them.

“So we will prepare that match as best as we can, like all the other matches, checking the opponents strengths, their weaknesses, and after that, prepare a game plan.”

Updated: January 25, 2024, 12:31 PM