Katanec on alert for UAE's qualifying tie against India

The national coach expects a tough match against a side who beat Qatar on Sunday.

India, in blue, defeated a full-strength Qatar side in a friendly on Sunday, a result that was hailed as one of their best in years.
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Srecko Katanec was in no mood yesterday to revisit Theyab Awana's controversial penalty kick against Lebanon.

The UAE national team coach is focused on the 2014 World Cup qualifier against India on Saturday and managing expectations against an improving and perhaps dangerous side.

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India beat Qatar 2-1 in a friendly in Doha on Sunday, a result newspapers in India hailed as one of the best for their side in years.

"That was Qatar's full team and India won," Katanec said. "They will be very tough. They are not on our level, but India will fight."

The UAE play India at Khalifa Stadium in Al Ain at 8pm on Saturday, with the return match in Delhi on July 28. The winner on aggregate advances to Asian Football Confederation group play. The loser's World Cup dreams are put on hold for another four years.

"This is almost like a knockout match," Katanec said. "In group play, you get six or eight matches. This is different."

Katanec is unhappy that some UAE media have predicted an easy passage against India, whom the UAE defeated 5-0 in a friendly in November.

"I don't like the atmosphere," he said. "Some journalists say we will win by five or six goals."

Last week, Katanec was more sanguine about a home-and-away tie with India. "Honestly, I don't have any problem with India," he said. "We are the better team, 100 per cent. We must show this on the field, but we are the better team."

He said he had watched India in the Asian Cup in Doha last January. India lost 4-0 to Australia, 5-2 to Bahrain and 4-1 to South Korea in that tournament.

A week ago, Katanec seemed unaware that India had replaced their English coach, Bob Houghton, with an Indian, Armando Colaco, or that the new coach had changed nearly half of the India side who were outscored 13-3 in the Asian Cup. Katanec said he was confident that one of his assistants would bring back a complete report from the friendly in Qatar.

Ali Al Wehaibi, the veteran midfielder, said he does not expect an easy time. "The Indians must be respected," he said. "They are an improving side and we have seen them performing very well in Doha."

Awana's back-heel penalty got most of the attention, but Katanec said he was "80 per cent satisfied" with his team's performance in the 7-2 friendly victory over Lebanon. "We can do better," he said.

Katanec also conceded he is concerned that India might have more supporters in the stands in Al Ain than the UAE will.

Not only has the national side been poorly supported in the past year, more than two million Indians live in the UAE. "It would be ridiculous [if India had more fans] but it could be," he said.