DUBAI // Srecko Katanec, the UAE coach, has demanded his players take more responsibility on the pitch in their Pro League encounters after watching them stumble their way through 90 minutes of mediocre football against Malaysia on Wednesday night. The Emirates won 1-0 at Al Shabab stadium courtesy of a 92nd-minute curling strike from substitute Ahmed Khalil, but the game should have been finished long beforehand such was the home side's dominance.
With Ismail Matar and Mohamed al Shehhi returning from injury, Katanec, in his first competitive match in charge, would have hoped for better against a side they comprehensively routed 5-0 in Kuala Lumpur less than 12 months ago. But what he watched was an unimaginative set of players, lacking the guile and ability to penetrate their inexperienced opponents' defence. Things improved in the second half after the introduction of Khalil, who dovetailed impressively with al Shehhi, but still the hosts struggled to make their possession count against an ultra defensive Malaysia side.
"In the domestic league, no teams play in the way Malaysia did," said the Slovenian after seeing his side secure the point they needed to qualify for next year's finals in Qatar. "Okay, some games might start off with teams fairly organised, but eventually they open out and while that produces entertaining matches, it is not the way to play. International football is different. "In the first half, Malaysia played very closed and defensive. We needed somebody to try and do something special: make a good pass, take a good shot, but we offered nothing.
"These players don't have the characteristics required to change a game" to change the speed and tempo, to beat a few players and create something. They lack imagination. "And that is because the local players do not take responsibility for their club sides - they are happy to let the foreign players take on that job. That is something that must change." Matar, the Al Wahda forward who is widely regarded as the UAE's most talented player, was anonymous for much of the game and, at times, felt the wrath of his coach.
However, Katanec, not a man known for pulling punches, was uncharacteristically restrained when quizzed on his playmaker's subdued performance. "I don't like to speak about particular players, but if you insist, I would say, normally, I would expect more from Ismail, but you have to remember he is coming back from injury so his performance was normal," said the former Macedonia coach. The win secured Katanec's side their seats on a flight to Doha next January to compete in the Asian Cup, but the 46-year-old knows they will need to improve substantially if they are to leave a positive impression at the continental showpiece.
"I would like to improve in all departments before next year, but we will need to see. You cannot read too much into this result," he said. "I have no complaints about this group of players. I am used to teammates fighting every day in training, but the players don't do that here. I am very satisfied with their discipline and we have faced no problems off the field." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org