Mabkhout's 'really bad' training behind national team absence, says UAE boss Bento

But Portuguese coach won't close door on record scorer ahead of important World Cup qualifier against Yemen

Ali Mabkhout, the UAE's record scorer, is out of favour under boss Paulo Bento. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Paulo Bento has not closed the door on Ali Mabkhout’s international career while he is UAE manager, although he said the striker’s “really bad” performance and attitude in training was behind his Asian Cup absence.

Mabkhout, the UAE’s all-time leading goalscorer, was a high-profile omission from the national team’s campaign in Qatar in January despite being named in the squad.

The 33-year-old was an unused substitute in the UAE’s opening two Group C matches against Hong Kong and Palestine – teenager Sultan Adil started and scored in both – and was omitted from the games against Iran and tournament debutants Tajikistan. The UAE exited the competition when they lost to the latter on penalties in the last 16.

Mabkhout, who has featured in all three of Al Jazira's Adnoc Pro League matches since, was not named in Bento’s squad for the upcoming 2026 World Cup qualifying double-header against Yemen.

Speaking on Wednesday, on the eve of the home fixture in Abu Dhabi, the Portuguese was asked if Mabkhout would have the opportunity to play for him again.

“I don’t know... the future, I cannot predict,” Bento said. “For now, he’s not. It’s a fact that he didn’t play in the Asian Cup due to many reasons. One of them was that his performance and his attitude in the training sessions was really bad.

"So it’s normal that, when these kind of things happen, the coach makes the decision to not play players who have that kind of behaviour.

“And the other reason is that after the [final group] game against Iran, the game that he stayed out of the team, he got injured in the stands, which meant he couldn’t play or couldn’t train in the next days after.

"It’s important for us to come with the players that want to play with the national team, [that] show the right wish and the right desire to play with the team. It's not just the quality that’s important.

“These are the reasons why he is not with us. The future? We never know.”

Thursday night’s match against Yemen at Al Nahyan Stadium represents the UAE’s first since the Asian Cup. Bento’s side are top of Group H, with two wins from their opening two second-round games. Yemen sit third, three points behind.

Should the UAE win at home and then away in Saudi Arabia next Tuesday – Yemen cannot play at home because of the ongoing political situation there – they will book their place in the third and final phase of qualification.

“It’s an important match for us in achieving the nine points,” Bento said. “We will try to show our best in a game that will be difficult. The Yemen team has three points, but the match is a challenge for us.”

UAE defender Bader Nasser added: “The preparations went excellently. Everyone is ready and we are trying to reach the nine points and make the Emirati people happy.

“We have experienced players that we benefit from, such as [goalkeepers] Khalid Essa and Ali Khaseif, and all the players are looking forward to representing the national team in the best way.”

Updated: March 20, 2024, 8:00 PM