Alberto Zaccheroni, the UAE manager, was left reeling Tuesday with the news that another senior player is a major doubt for the 2019 Asian Cup.
Veteran forward Ismail Matar suffered a hairline fracture of his cheekbone playing for Al Wahda in the Arabian Gulf League on Monday and will require surgery, his club said.
The Wahda captain suffered the injury after he was caught in the face by the elbow of Sharjah's Igor Coronado during a 3-2 defeat at Al Nahyan Stadium on Monday.
Matar, 35, continued to play on but a Wahda official confirmed to The National that the Emirati will undergo surgery on Tuesday night and is expected to be out of action for up to four weeks, leaving Matar with a race against the clock to be fit for the January 5-February 1 tournament to be held in the Emirates.
“The referee didn’t see the incident and didn’t take action for that foul, but Ismail was hurt badly,” said Ahmed Al Rumaithi, chairman of the club’s board of directors.
“We don’t know the extent of injury and we don’t know for how long he’ll be out of action, but according to the early medical reports, he will be out of action for at least four weeks.”
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If Matar, a veteran of 95 caps for the national team, is unable to prove his fitness in time it will be another major blow to Zaccheroni's plans. The Italian is already without the services of talisman Omar Abdulrahman, the Al Hilal playmaker who has been ruled out of the continental championship after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
Asked if Matar will be fit for the Asian Cup, being held in the UAE for only the second time, Al Rumaithi sounded pessimistic.
“I can’t say it for sure,” he added. “It’s not for me to say if he would be fit or not in time for the Asian Cup. If he’s not going to train for four weeks, then there is a doubt on his availability of course.”
Matar has only recently fought his way back into Zaccheroni's plans. He was recalled last month after more than a year out of the national team for a training camp in Barcelona.
Matar came off the bench in two recent friendlies - a scoreless draw against Bolivia on November 16 and a 2-0 win over Yemen four days later, both in Dubai.
The UAE are drawn in Group A of the Asian Cup alongside Bahrain, Thailand and India. The hosts open the tournament against their Gulf neighbours Bahrain on January 5 at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi.
The 2019 Asian Cup has been expanded to 24 teams, up on the 16-team format used from 2004 to 2015.