Alberto Zaccheroni confident UAE will rise to challenge in Asian Cup semi-finals

Hosts face Qatar in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday night for place in final of continental tournament

United Arab Emirates' head coach Alberto Zaccheroni stands on the touchline before the AFC Asian Cup quarterfinal soccer match between United Arab Emirates and Australia at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
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UAE manager Alberto Zaccheroni is convinced his improving side will rise to the challenge against Qatar on Tuesday and book a place in the Asian Cup final.

The national team, hosts of the continent’s showpiece event for only the second time, take on their Gulf rivals in the last-four clash at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

The UAE, who finished runners-up on home soil in 1996, set up the encounter by defeating defending champions Australia 1-0 in the quarter-final last Friday, in what was comfortably their best performance of the tournament. Although they topped Group A, they drew against Bahrain and Thailand, before requiring extra-time to advance past Kyrgyzstan in the last 16.

Speaking on Monday ahead of the most important match of his 15-month tenure, Zaccheroni acknowledged the threat posed by a Qatar team yet to concede a goal in five matches.

However, he backed his players to embrace the weight of expectation and secure only the second Asian Cup final appearance in the country’s history.

"The UAE faced some difficulties in the first games of the groups stages and even in the round of 16, especially because we had some teams that defending well,” Zaccheroni said. “But the UAE team is evolving.

“The performance in the last game was very good. I'm very much aware of the difficulties of the game against Qatar, but I’m confident we will be able to win the game with a very good performance of our players tomorrow.

“Each game for us is very important and we view it like a final. The UAE players are aware of the importance of the game and they want to meet the challenge. We're aware of our responsibility as players or as medical staff or administrative staff. We are all willing to show the responsibility to defeat Qatar in the semi-final.”

Zaccheroni, an Asian Cup winner with Japan in 2011, played down a growing list of injuries to key players, with defenders Khalifa Muburak and Mohammed Ahmed both ruled out. Centre-back Fares Juma is available, though, despite departing last Friday’s match in injury-time having suffered a concussion.

Earlier that day, Qatar came through their quarter-final against South Korea, clinching a 1-0 win to extend their 100 per cent record this tournament.

“We are aware that what matters is the short time,” Zaccheroni said. “We hope that we can recover our strength and efforts in the next game because we don’t have much time between the games.

“This applies to both us and Qatar. We all suffer from the short time for the players to recover. But this does not hinder the UAE from doing very well in the game.

“In my opinion, Qatar are a strong team, very well organised. It’s a team that did not concede a goal, and who has given a very good performance so far. We will be highly focused in order to reach the final.”

Asked how the criticism of his philosophy, which has dogged the Italian throughout his time in charge, has changed since the Australia victory, Zaccheroni said: “I don’t read the papers to see the criticism of analysts.

"My main focus is on my team, because I live with them in their daily training. I focus on my players and analyse the opponents.

“We want to make sure our team evolves, especially in attack. But for the criticism I don’t pay any attention to that. I want to achieve my goal to reach the final.”