Ali Mabkhout has left the UAE squad and returned to Al Jazira to recover fully from injury, leaving Alberto Zaccheroni with a selection headache up front ahead of his debut as national team manager.
The Italian, appointed as Edgardo Bauza’s successor last month, takes charge of his first match on Friday, when the national team face Haiti in a friendly at Al Ain’s Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium.
The squad met up in the Garden City on Sunday and have trained twice, although Mabkhout and Al Ain midfielder Mohammed Abdulrahman were assessed and then allowed to return to their clubs.
Last season’s top goalscorer in the Arabian Gulf League, Mabkhout has played only four of Jazira’s seven league matches this season as the UAE champions sit sixth in the table. He returned to Henk ten Cate’s squad for last Friday’s goalless draw with Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, but was named as a substitute and played only the final 19 minutes.
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Mabkhout’s absence reduces further Zaccheroni’s striking options for the UAE, with Jazira teammate Ahmed Khalil, Al Wahda veteran Ismail Matar and Al Nasr’s Salem Saleh all missing through injury. Jazira’s Ahmed Al Attas and Wahda’s Mohammed Al Akbari could be in line to start against Haiti.
On Tuesday, Zaccheroni added another four players to the group, calling up Al Nasr duo Khalifa Mubarak and Jassim Yaqoub together with Sharjah's Yousef Saeed and Wanda's Ahmed Rashid.
The UAE play Asian counterparts Uzbekistan also during the international break, with the friendly taking place next Tuesday, again at the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium. Having signed a contract through to the 2019 Asian Cup, Zaccheroni has been tasked with guiding the UAE to at least the final on home soil. He has already won the tournament after leading Japan to the 2011 title.
The UAE have never before lifted the trophy, with their best finish coming in 1996, the last time it was staged in the Emirates, when they were beaten in the final by Saudi Arabia. The 2019 event has been expanded to 24 teams.