Omar Abdulrahman’s international teammates have wished him a speedy recovery from injury so that the UAE star can return in time for the 2019 Asian Cup.
The Al Hilal playmaker, Asian player of the year in 2016, damaged his right knee playing for the Saudi Arabian club on Saturday and had to be stretchered off, with initial reports suggesting he had suffered a medium tear of the anterior cruciate ligament.
Abdulrahman was due to have a scan on Sunday, but the swelling around the knee was said to be too severe. Instead the MRI was pushed back to Tuesday, before both his club and national team would then confirm the prognosis.
With the Asian Cup to take place in the UAE from January 5-February 1 for only the second time in the country's history, Abdulrahman is viewed as the poster boy of the event. The former Al Ain captain, who signed this summer for Hilal, is also seen as integral to the national team's hopes of a successful showing on the pitch.
Speaking on Monday at an event to mark 75 days until the UAE kick off the tournament against Bahrain, Abdulrahman’s former club colleagues and current international teammates said they were waiting for good news regarding the injury.
“Omar is a very big player for us: he’s our superstar and he’s always supporting us when he’s outside the field and inside the field,” said Rayan Yaslam, the Al Ain and UAE attacking midfielder. “I hope it’s not a big injury. Because we need Omar around us, and everybody for the Asian Cup.
“I hope he makes it. But if he can’t I’m sure he will be supporting us in a big way when he is with us anyway.”
Should Abdulrahman not recover in time for the Asian Cup, Yaslam could be one player to help fill the void. The Emirati, 23, is a relatively recent call-up to the national team having grown in stature last season at Al Ain, alongside Abdulrahman. Yaslam made his UAE debut last December and has gone on to become a regular member of Alberto Zaccheroni’s squad.
“Like I said, Omar is a big player and if he stays with us it will be an advantage for us,” he said. “But if he is not with us, I think we have some players who can make up the difference. And I hope that I can be one of them.”
Mohanad Salem, the experienced UAE centre-back, echoed Yaslam’s sentiments on Monday. The Al Ain defender has been part of the same UAE side that has enjoyed significant success with Abdulrahman as their creative fulcrum, including the team that finished third at the most recent Asian Cup, in 2015.
Asked about Abdulrahman’s potential absence from the January event, Salem said: “Obviously Omar’s presence is very important, not just for the national team, but any team he represents. We wish him the best of luck and hope he’s back in time for the tournament. We need him together with us for the national team’s ambitions.”
The Asian Cup, the continent’s marquee football tournament, features for the first time 24 teams, with matches played in eight stadiums across Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain and Sharjah. The UAE finished runners-up the last time it was staged in the Emirates, in 1996 – their best result to date.