UAE manager Alberto Zaccheroni says he is focused solely on his side's “make-or-break” Asian Cup match against India on Thursday, and not speculation surrounding his future.
The national team, hosting the continental showpiece for only the second time in the country’s history, must get their campaign back on track at Zayed Sports City Stadium following their hugely disappointing 1-1 draw with Bahrain in the tournament opener at the same venue on Saturday.
The result prompted rumours that Zaccheroni was set to be dismissed, with Zlatko Dalic, the former Al Ain manager and current Croatia head coach, said to be in negotiations to succeed him.
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However, the Football Association quickly denied they were seeking to replace Zaccheroni, 65, whose contract runs until the conclusion of the Asian Cup. The former AC Milan and Juventus manager, who guided Japan to Asian Cup success in 2011, was appointed in October 2017.
“As a coach I have more than 35 years experience – I don’t care about such stuff,” Zaccheroni said on Wednesday. “We know that we failed our fans and we apologise to them. We all hoped to win to satisfy the fans.
“But our focus now is on the game against India. I have enough experience. Yes, we know that in football we can hear a lot of things said outside of the pitch, like in Italy where they have three newspapers dedicated to football.
“But my focus is on the game against India and to deliver the best performance and satisfy the UAE fans. My confidence in the players is very big. I will do my best to deliver the best result. My main objective is to win the Asian Cup.”
The UAE will need to improve vastly on their display against Bahrain, when they required an Ahmed Khalil penalty three minutes from time to salvage the draw.
Zaccheroni’s men struggled to create chances throughout, unlike their Indian opponents, who kick-started their bid to reach the knockout stages by thumping Thailand 4-1 on Sunday. At 97th in the Fifa world rakings, Stephen Constantine’s side sit 18 places below the UAE.
“The India team played a distinguished game in the first match,” Zaccheroni said. “They played against a strong team, but they scored very well. We had a meeting with the players after the game against Bahrain where we showed India’s strengths and weaknesses.
“It will not be an easy game - there is no easy game - but the UAE will be ready. The Fifa rankings do not matter to me. We respect the India team, but I have full confidence in the players that tomorrow they will play very well, that their performance will be very good.”
The top two teams in Group A are guaranteed to advance to the last 16, together with the four best third-placed sides from the opening phase. Yet Zaccheroni is under no illusion that Thursday's encounter represents a must-win match for his charges.
“Tomorrow’s game will be a make-or-break game,” the Italian said. “From my side, as a coach and the players, we will do our best to win. We know we will face difficulties, but I have full confidence in all the players.
“There will be a lot of passion and desire to win. More than in the first game. We will try to change the image of the team that played against Bahrain.
I’m convinced the UAE played very well against Bahrain, especially the first 30 minutes. We will change that image and give a good image in the next game.”
Zaccheroni confirmed that captain and centre-back Ismail Ahmed (calf), full-back Bandar Al Ahbabi (thigh) and winger Saif Rashid (thigh) will be assessed on Thursday to determine if they will be available for selection.