Khamis Esmail: Nerves played a part in UAE's flat opening to Asian Cup

Midfielder acknowledges pressure and scale of event got to some of the players in their draw against Bahrain, but is confident they can bounce back in other Group A games with India and Thailand

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 05:  Khamis Zayed of UAE competes for the ball with  Sayed Saeed of Bahrain during the AFC Asian Cup Group A match between United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at Zayed Sports City Stadium on January 5, 2019 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
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Midfielder Khamis Esmail conceded that nerves played a part in the UAE’s failure to open the 2019 Asian Cup with a victory.

The home side were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw by Bahrain at Zayed Sports City Stadium on Saturday night – the first time the Emirates has hosted the continent's showpiece tournament since 1996.

It required an Ahmed Khalil penalty two minutes from time to rescue a point, with the UAE facing India on Thursday knowing nothing less than a win would suffice. They round off their Group A account against Thailand four days later. The top two teams are guaranteed progression to the last 16.

Against Bahrain, a disjointed UAE fielded a number of players with limited senior international experience, including full-backs Bandar Al Ahbabi and Al Hassan Saleh, and midfielders Khalfan Mubarak and Saif Rashid.


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“We have some mistakes to fix to go into the coming match against India and achieve the victory and compensate the result against Bahrain,” said Esmail, a mainstay of the UAE squad for much of the past six years. “We have to fix all the problems that emerged in the Bahrain match.

“Some were because some of the players were scared since it was the first time for them to play at this level. Always opening matches are very difficult, especially for the new players. Bahrain were very strong and they were effective in their performance, and this made our job more difficult.

“Always in the first game in any competition you find some problems, but hopefully it will get better. There is a pressure. We have four players who maybe this is the first time they play, but God willing in the next game we play without pressure, without anything.”

Esmail vowed that the UAE would respond to Saturday’s disappointment. He also said that Thursday’s match against India, once more to take place at Zayed Sports City, represented a must-win encounter for Alberto Zaccheroni’s men.

“We have to do better in the next game,” he said. “This game is now in the past and now we have to focus on the matches against India and Thailand. These two teams are very strong and we have to be better than today.

“We have to focus more, to be together more and hopefully we will be better. Sure, we have to win.”