Mahdi Ali will attempt to mastermind the UAE's qualification for the 2018 Fifa World Cup after he signed a new three-year deal to remain as national team coach.
The Emirati’s original contract was to expire this summer, and a delay in negotiations with the Football Association had prompted speculation that an agreement would not be reached.
However, the FA announced on their website late Wednesday that Mahdi Ali had indeed signed an extension, while also confirming they had accepted the resignation of Ali Ibrahim, the former Olympic team coach. Abdullah Misfir, previously the manager at Al Dhafra, was appointed to the role earlier this month.
The news Mahdi Ali has renewed his contract will be welcomed by both the national team’s players and UAE fans, especially following last month’s encouraging Asian Cup campaign.
In Australia, the UAE reached the semi-finals, before losing to the hosts. They later secured third place with victory in the play-off against Iraq, which cemented their highest finish on foreign soil. Currently at 66th in the Fifa world rankings, they are considered the fifth best team on the continent.
Mahdi Ali, a former international midfielder, has been integral to the UAE’s recent success. Having thrived both regionally and internationally with a number of age-group teams, in 2012 he guided the Under-23 side to their first Olympic Games. A string of fine performances in London convinced the FA to reward Mahdi Ali with promotion to the senior team – from there he led the UAE to Gulf Cup success in January 2013.
Mahdi Ali’s next assignment is helping his promising crop of players qualify for the World Cup in three years’ time. The UAE, who enter at the second-round stage, will discover who they face on the road to Russia when the draw is made on April 11. The qualifiers, which serve a dual function for both the World Cup and the 2019 Asian Cup, begin in June. The UAE have appeared at the global finals only once before, in 1990.
Speaking after last month’s Asian Cup, Mahdi Ali said: “We played three games against teams who qualified for the World Cup in Japan, Iran and Australia. We played well in these three games and there was no big gap between the teams. This gives us the confidence to qualify for the next World Cup.
“We have to work hard and plan better than before as it will be hard with the new draw system where you have a group of eight. It’s a good chance for us to qualify for Russia as we have a good generation.”
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