UAE v Iraq: ‘Everybody is motivated’ to get 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign back on track
ABU DHABI // Mahdi Ali has backed his UAE players to consign to history last month’s damaging defeat to Saudi Arabia when they resume their World Cup campaign against Iraq on Tuesday.
Currently fourth in Group B and two points off an automatic qualification spot for Russia 2018, the UAE are seeking to rebound from the 3-0 loss to group leaders Saudi Arabia on October 11, when they capitulated in the final 19 minutes to concede all three goals.
Mahdi Ali’s men next host a dangerous Iraq side at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, where anything less than victory would make the country’s progress to only a second World Cup highly unlikely given they already trail Saudi Arabia by four points. At present, the UAE have six points from four matches.
However, Mahdi Ali is convinced the UAE can bounce back from the Jeddah defeat and breathe fresh life into their World Cup campaign.
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“Winning always starts from a loss,” said the Emirati, who has managed the majority of this generation at various age-group levels since 2008. “Always when you lose it’s the beginning of a new win. And winning after that game will bring the team to the same spirit again.
“We are very motivated to change the picture that happened in the last game. All the players know the importance of this game as well as we know how important it is for us to keep our dream on the pitch in our hands.
“We still have a big chance, but we have to have a positive result tomorrow to keep our chance in this race. Everybody is motivated, not only the players, and we are very confident. We have gone through many, many obstacles in the past since 2008, and this is one of the things that we already have experience of. When it is getting tight the players will have their say in the game.”
Mahdi Ali was heavily criticised following the Saudi Arabia defeat, with rumours his four-year tenure with the senior team would soon be brought to an end. It has ramped up the pressure on the manager and his players, although he appeared relaxed in front of the media ahead of what is a potentially defining match against Iraq.
“We didn’t suffer,” he said. “This criticism was coming from the people who love our nation, who love the national team and I hope we’ll give them our best tomorrow.
“Pressure is part of my job. Before they asked Jose Mourinho about the drop in Cristiano Ronaldo’s level and he said there’s no discussion about the value of Ronaldo, that everybody knows he is a great player, the best player in the world. But sometimes he suffers from a drop.
“This also happens to a coach. My duty is to recover very quickly from this and giving a good performance and getting a good result tomorrow will be very positive for me and the team. We will get back on the right path.”
There is positive news for Mahdi Ali on the injury front, with only Al Ain midfielder Amer Abdulrahman ruled out. Defender Ismail Ahmed and striker Ali Mabkhout, who were slight concerns, are fit to face Iraq, who at 113th in the Fifa world rankings sit 43 places below the UAE. They lost their first three matches in Group B, but responded in their most recent qualifier to thump Thailand 4-0.
“The game needs us to be focused, needs us to be calm, needs support form everywhere,” Mahdi Ali said. “This is what important for us. What’s important for me is to prepare the team in the very best way. Anything else is not important. I hope tomorrow we will be ready and motivated and have the utmost desire for the three points.”
Also from John McAuley:
Radhi Shenaishil: Iraq manager warns UAE about side’s toughness
Reporter’s homework: Opposition scouting and UAE v Iraq match-up
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Published: November 14, 2016 04:00 AM