UAE enter home stretch of Asian Cup preparations

Friendlies against Jordan and Kuwait offer chance for goalkeepers to lay claim to Ali Kasheif's starting role

UAE coach Mahdi Ali speaks with his team during a training session at Robina Stadium in Gold Coast, Australia, on December 28, 2014. Courtesy UAE FA
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With less than two weeks remaining until their first match at the Asian Cup, the UAE begin the final stretch of their preparations on Tuesday with a friendly against Jordan.

Tune-ups against Jordan and Kuwait, the latter on Saturday, represent the last chances for UAE coach Mahdi Ali to see his players in competitive situations ahead of their Asian Cup opener against Qatar on January 11.

Mohammed Obaid Hammad Al Dhaheri, the general supervisor of the UAE team, said he was pleased with the progress made during the national side’s training camp in Gold Coast, Australia.

“No doubt, the two encounters are highly important to the coaching staff that will try to put into practice the ideas that they have worked on in the last few days, and make sure the players are prepared physically and technically ahead of the finals,” Al Dhaheri said.

The Jordan and Kuwait friendlies will take place at the Robina Stadium, in the Gold Coast suburbs. The UAE face Qatar and Bahrain in Canberra before closing play in Group C against Iran in Brisbane.

While the results of the matches in Gold Coast mean little, they could yet prove useful. Jordan, who just missed qualifying for this year’s World Cup finals, sit across from the UAE in Group D and could meet Mahdi Ali’s side in the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup.

Kuwait, who are in Group A, cannot meet the UAE until the semi-finals.

Al Dhaheri said the friendlies would have competitiveness near that of official matches “as both Jordan and Kuwait are considered strong teams in Asia and have deservedly qualified for the finals”.

The Jordan friendly also offers a first chance for one of the UAE’s goalkeepers to stake their claim to the starting job.

Al Jazira keeper Ali Kasheif is not with the squad after being called in for national service. Kasheif has been Mahdi Ali's first choice between the posts since the London Olympics in 2012, but now the onus is on his counterparts to step in and shore up the UAE defence.

Al Ain keeper Khalid Essa has been Kasheif's back-up in recent squads. Majed Naser of Al Ahli was brought back into the national team fold after struggling with disciplinary problems. Sharjah's Mohammed Yousuf was also selected.

Al Dhaheri said Kasheif not being in the squad was a “disadvantage” to the team but that Naser and Essa were capable of filling in for him.

“The absence of a player or goalkeeper does not affect the team as all players in the squad are waiting for an opportunity to prove their skills,” he said.

The Football Association official made clear that the absence of Kasheif and Ismail Matar, who was injured while playing for Al Wahda, would not drag down expectations.

Al Dhaheri said the objectives for the national team were the same as they were when Mahdi Ali took charge – reaching the semi-finals of the Asian Cup and qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Jordan come into the friendly in need of generating experience after coach Ray Wilkins selected a youthful squad for the Asian Cup.

In choosing his 23-man squad for the tournament, Wilkins left out several experienced players, including Amer Deeb (98 caps), and Hassan Abdel-Fattah (87), as well as Romania-based striker Thaer Bawab.

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