UAE striker Ahmed Khalil says Thailand ‘have nothing to lose’ when they meet in World Cup qualifier

UAE striker Ahmed Khalil hopes this week to fire the national team towards next summer’s World Cup. He speaks to John McAuley about life under new manager Edgardo Bauza and his proposed move to AGL champions Al Jazira.

The UAE's Ahmed Khalil in training ahead of the match against Thailand. Courtesy UAE FA
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UAE striker Ahmed Khalil hopes this week to fire the national team towards next summer’s World Cup. The UAE take on Thailand in Bangkok on Tuesday.

A new era begins

The qualifier represents Edgardo Bauza’s first competitive match in charge of the UAE following his appointment last month. The former Argentina national team manager knows the size of the task: with three matches remaining, the UAE are fourth in Group B, seven points off qualification. Realistically, they must win all three matches to stand any chance of reaching a second World Cup for the country.

On the final push

“Bauza knows the players well now, we are very confident in him and will all strive to perform well,” Khalil said. “We also trust ourselves: our goal is to win and get the three points to revive our hopes. We need to forget the past negative results, and regain control by achieving positive results. In the last matches we lost crucial games to Japan and Australia, but this is not the end, because the chance still exists. We are all fully aware that this is our last chance and that means we need to win against Thailand.”

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On the Thailand threat

“Thailand are a tough team and we have to respect them,” Khalil said. “We have to prepare for them with all our concentration, as if preparing for any of the big Asian teams, like Japan or Australia. Thailand’s inability to qualify makes them more dangerous because they have nothing to lose, and they play at home so will want to please their fans. But we are aware of it. We have to remain confident and give everything we have on the pitch to ensure we return with the points.”

On playing 4-4-1-1

It has been suggested Khalil could lose his place in the side after the Thailand match, as Bauza opts for only Ali Mabkhout in attack. But Khalil said: “Whether Bauza plays one striker or two, as players we honour his decision. We are all one family and we all support each other. There is no difference between a starting player and a substitute; the team getting the points is more important than my place in the first XI. Whichever 11 are chosen, every player on the bench supports them. We are all together in one goal.”

On swapping Al Ahli for Al Jazira

“I passed a period in which I was under tremendous pressure, but it passed peacefully and did not affect me very much,” said Khalil, who is expected to confirm his move this summer from boyhood club Ahli to the UAE champions. “We’re at the end of a season and we have to forget about the transfer from Ahli to Al Jazira and the great controversy that ensued. I’ll think only about what’s coming now. We’re focused on one objective now. Each player seeks to get the win against Thailand.”

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