The UAE’s progression to the Gulf Cup of Nations final represents an important step in the side’s bid for a strong showing at next year’s Asian Cup, according to manager Alberto Zaccheroni.
The Italian, appointed in mid-October, has guided his new team to Friday’s showpiece against Oman at the Jaber Al Ahmad International Stadium in Kuwait City.
Victory would secure for the UAE a third Gulf Cup trophy and give Zaccheroni an unexpected early success less than three months into his tenure. The national team, winners of the title in 2007 and 2013, were not scheduled to participate in the tournament until Kuwait was reinstated as hosts early last month.
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With the 2019 Asian Cup only 12 months away and taking place in the Emirates, Zaccheroni sees the Gulf Cup run as integral to laying foundations for a positive performance early next year. In 2011, he led Japan to the continental crown.
"Qualification for the final in itself is a big and important achievement, as part of the preparations for the Asian Cup, and a step in the right direction for the plan we have set," Zaccheroni said.
"We have our own style that has become engrained during the tournament. The players' grasp of that is very important, especially as we participate in a competitive tournament in a short time.
"We are very pleased with the strong returns of the players throughout our time together, despite the difficult period we had before the tournament, specifically in terms of injuries suffered by some of the most important players, in addition to the short period of time to participate in the tournament. So to achieve something at this stage is wonderful.”
The UAE’s campaign thus far has been built upon their solid defence - they have not conceded in four matches - although that seems to have come at the expense of their attacking prowess. In 390 minutes of football, the UAE have scored a single goal, coming from the penalty spot in the Group A opener against Oman.
Zaccheroni highlighted his brief time in the role, and a number of injuries to key players, as reason why the side have not yet fulfilled its potential in front of goal.
"The team achieved the important target of reaching the final,” he said. “We need time and patience to take on board the new tactics and philosophy in an ideal way.
“We have had opportunities to score, and the attackers need time after their return from injuries, such as Ahmed Khalil, Ismail Al Hammadi, Ali Mabkhout and Omar Abdulrahman, and find successful solutions to have the offensive force after we have performed the best defensively in the championship.”