Ali Mabkhout happy to not score if it means the UAE winning the Gulf Cup

Al Jazira forward has notched the side's only goal of the tournament so far, however that came from the penalty spot.

epa06403482 Oman player Harib Al Saadi (L) in action against United Arab Emirates Player Ali Mabkhout (R) during the Gulf Cup of Nations soccer match between Oman and United Arab Emirates at Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium, Kuwait City, Kuwait, 22 December 2017  EPA/NOUFAL IBRAHIM
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Ali Mabkhout would rather not score any goals if it meant the UAE winning the Gulf Cup, the striker said ahead of their semi-final showdown with Iraq on Tuesday.

Mabkhout, and indeed the UAE team as a whole, have struggled for goals in the tournament so far, scoring just once in the group stage – and that from the penalty spot.

That proved enough to advance as Group A runners-up behind Oman thanks to three successive clean sheets.

Now into the knockout stages, the UAE will look to maintain their defensive solidity while adding more goals. Central to that will be striker Mabkhout, who scored the UAE’s solitary goal in the tournament.

However, the Al Jazira forward insists contributing to the team’s success far outweighs his own personal ambitions.

“Ali Mabkhout’s individual performance is not important as long as the team wins,” Mabkhout said.

“We have done well to be where we are today. That’s the most important thing. It’s not necessary I contribute or not.

“We are on the right track and even if we get the championship without me scoring any goal, that’s not a problem. What is more important is the title, and we can only achieve it as a team.”

UAE manager Alberto Zaccheroni is confident his side will find their goal-scoring touch against Iraq at the Jaber Al Ahmad International Stadium in Kuwait City.

“We reached the semi-final and that’s what we need to talk about,” he said.

“I think as long as we are achieving our goals it shouldn’t be a problem. We are developing as a team and I’m confident our performance will get stronger when we play Iraq.

“I have 45 years of experience in football and I always look for a way to play in a balanced way and not just defensive.

“I spoke to my players of our strategies and at the end we will be playing as a team, attack as a team and defend as a team.

“Iraq is a big team. They have players with experience, skills and physically stronger.  We too have players with excellent skills and much capable of playing in various positions.”

Zaccheroni, who took charge of the UAE in October, has some selection dilemmas to address, with some players ruled out with illness and injuries.

Omar Abdulrahman, the playmaker and the UAE’s best player, has been cleared but his older sibling Mohammed and centre-back Ismail Ahmed are down with the flu, and are battling against time to recover.

“We have had very little time to prepare for the Gulf Cup and very little time for recovery between matches in the league phase of this tournament, but we are prepared well,” Zaccheroni said.

“It’s not unusual to have injured and tired players during a tournament. We have travelled with a full squad and I’m confident those provided the opportunity can step in and perform for the absent players.

“We are in the knockout format and it’s different to the results in the group phase,” the Italian added.

“This is a game in which the winner takes all. We have a different strategy. The good thing is we are still in the race. This is a big opportunity and my players are aware what it means to be in a final.”

Oman and Bahrain will contest the earlier Gulf Cup semi-final, with their match scheduled to kick-off at 6.15pm on Tuesday before the UAE take on Iraq at 9.30pm.