UAE v Australia: ‘We know what we need to do’ says quietly confident Mahdi Ali
ABU DHABI // Mahdi Ali refused to be drawn on opposite number Ange Postecoglou’s remarks that the UAE would be “fearful” of Australia in Tuesday’s 2018 World Cup qualifier at Abu Dhabi.
Postecoglou was quoted before Monday’s pre-match news conference that he expected the UAE to be worried about the threat of the Asian champions at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, saying: “I think they’d be a bit fearful of us and have every right to be. I expect them to sit back.”
See more on UAE v Australia:
• Ange Postecoglou: Australia manager says UAE are no ‘one-man team’
• UAE v Australia World Cup qualifier: Time, TV, tickets, info to know
• Omar Abdulrahman: UAE ‘need our stadium to be full’ for Australia clash
The two teams met most recently at last year’s Asian Cup semi-finals in Australia, when the hosts prevailed 2-0 thanks to early goals from Trent Sainsbury and Jason Davidson. Australia then defeated South Korea in the final to lift the trophy for the first time.
However, when asked later on Monday about Postecoglou’s remarks, Mahdi Ali responded: “This is his opinion, I respect that. We will see on the pitch how the UAE and Australia will play. The UAE have played a long time with this group. We work for a long time to create an identity for our team and I think we have an identity. We know what we need to do tomorrow and hopefully we will see that on the pitch tomorrow.”
The UAE go into the match with largely the same squad that began the final stage of qualification for Russia 2018 with victory against Japan last Thursday. Al Ain left-back Mohammed Fayez has replaced injured Al Ahli counterpart Abdulaziz Sanqour, although club teammate Walid Abbas is expected to start in his place.
The UAE have prepared extensively for this final push towards Russia, spending most of the past two months at training camps in Spain, Dubai and China. It served them well last week in Saitama, when Ahmed Khalil’s double cancelled out Keisuke Honda’s early opener to seal a famous win.
Understandably, Mahdi Ali is seeking to build on that momentum against Australia.
“Our preparations are going very well. We’ve worked very hard for this game, and have no injuries other that Sanqour,” he said. “The morale is high. The first win against Japan gives us a good confidence boost.
“We respect all the teams, not only Australia. In football there are no easier teams or stronger teams. The team who is very well prepared, who have the will to win in the game and fight in the game, that gives the result in the end.”
Australia will be considered favourites, especially given their recent Asian Cup success. At No 57, they are ranked 17 places above the UAE in Fifa’s world rankings, while they are attempting to reach a fourth successive World Cup after first appearing in 1974. The UAE, on the other hand, have participated only once before.
Australia have a chequered recent record in the Middle East, though, losing their past two matches, to Jordan and Qatar.
“I don’t believe in history. I believe only in what the team is doing at this moment,” Mahdi Ali said. “Because in football it depends on how much you do on the pitch. Every period has its own circumstances and I don’t know what happened before, but what I know is on the pitch the team is very well prepared.
“Our first time qualifying for the World Cup was 1990, and since that date the UAE has been working very hard to qualify for a second time. This time we have a very good chance and a very good team, so I believe the UAE deserve to qualify for the World Cup 2018.”
The top two sides from Group B advance automatically to Russia, with the third-placed team then playing the equivalent side from Group A for a place in an inter-confederation play-off to determine who secures a spot at the World Cup. Thailand and Saudi Arabia comprise the other teams in Group B.
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Published: September 5, 2016 04:00 AM