DUBAI // Faced with a severe shortage of strikers, the UAE coach Srecko Katanec is planning on giving his midfield a greater share of the attacking duties when they face Malaysia in tomorrow's Asian Cup qualifier. The UAE have struggled to establish a first-choice pair under the Slovenian, with Ismail Matar and the Khalil brothers, Faisal and Ahmed, missing games through injuries. The situation took a turn for the worse in June, when previous coach Dominique Bathenay had to field a team without any recognised striker against South Korea. Ismail al Hammadi was given the job of leading the attack, but he limped off injured inside the first 10 minutes.
The lack of fire power saw the Emirates score just six goals in eight games of the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2010 World Cup as they finished with just a single point. Ahead of his first competitive match against Malaysia in Sharjah, Katanec admits the situation has not improved with his strikers firing blanks in the previous three friendly games. "I don't know how this situation will be resolved," admitted Katanec. "I can only hope the injured players will return soon. Maybe some outside player take the passport - I don't know. I am not the one to talk about that."
Faisal and Ahmed are both unavailable due to injury, while Mohammed Malallah, the Al Nasr striker who received his first call-up to the national side ahead of this clash, is also ruled out along with Bani Yas' Amer Abdulrehman. Al Shabab's Suroor Salem was drafted in to bolster the attack, which also includes Theyab Awana, who impressed at the Under 20 World Cup in Egypt. "If we don't have strikers, we will use midfield players," added Katanec. "This is one solution. If you remember, Roma played without a striker two years ago. They used Francesco Totti and he is not a striker. Roma had so many injuries and they used all midfield players. So we could do that.
"There are some other more important things though; we must run and we must take care. Some elements in football today are important and one of them is being aggressive. So it is important that we show the right character on the pitch and everything will be OK." Abdulsalaam Jumaa, the captain of the team and midfield marshal, confirmed the coach's plans to give the midfield extra responsibilities: "He has already told us that the midfield will have to play a more attacking role and we are looking forward to that.
"We hope we will be able to score plenty of goals and go to Uzbekistan for the final match in a positive frame of mind. Of course, Malaysia are not a bad team and have show that by beating Syria in a friendly game." Matar is expected to lead the attack with Mohammed al Shehi. Ali al Wahebi and Mahmoud Khamis should start out wide with Jumaa and Amer Ghanem Mubarak in the centre of midfield. Haidar Alo Ali, Hamdan al Kamali, Mohammed Qassim and Yousuf Jaber are in line to form the back four with Majed Nasser in goal.
Katanec is satisfied with the fitness and commitment of his players, but he is also aware of their tendency to lose focus. It is a criticism that has been labelled at them for some time now and the Slovenian says he is working hard to correct it. "We only played friendly matches until now," he said, hinting that those games have provided him with an idea of his best team. "This is our first official match, where I cannot make so many changes.
"So I will see. But we have a couple of players in the team who can easily play 90 minutes. Maybe some players cannot, but we have good guys and we should be OK for this match if we stay careful." email@example.com UAE v Malaysia, Tomorrow 7pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 1