Gulf Cup ideal dress rehearsal for UAE before Asian Cup

Former national football team captain Abdulrahman Mohammed, who will be at tournament draw on Tuesday, is confident UAE will defend title at Riyadh in November. Ahmed Rizvi reports.

Ahmed Khalil, left, and Omar Abdulrahman may still be young, but they have plenty of international experience. Fadi Al Assaad / Reuters
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Abdulrahman Mohammed, the former UAE captain, claims Tuesday’s Gulf Cup draw in Riyadh will matter little to the defending champions, because coach Mahdi Ali’s side do not fear any team.

Mohammed will be representing the UAE at Tuesday’s draw in Riyadh, along with another former UAE star, Mohsin Misbah, national coach Mahdi Ali, team manager Mutrif Al Shamsi and Mohammed Abdullah Hazzam Al Dhahiri, the secretary general of the UAE Football Association.

The draw ceremony, set for 10.30pm in the UAE, will be held at Riyadh’s Masmak Fort, with hosts Saudi Arabia and defending champions UAE placed in Group A and B, respectively. The rest of the six teams will be drawn in batches of two relative to their Fifa rankings, with Oman (69) and Qatar (86) in the first lot, followed by Iraq (89) and Bahrain (105), and finally Kuwait (107) and Yemen (180).

Seven of the eight teams have qualified for January’s Asian Cup in Australia as well, and two of them – Bahrain and Qatar – are in the same group as the UAE, along with Iran.

The only Gulf team not going to Australia is Yemen and the Gulf Cup group featuring the minnows will certainly be the weaker of the two, but Mohammed insists the UAE, the highest-ranked team in the competition at No 65, will not be worried.

“We will go to Saudi Arabia without fearing for any team, well-prepared and as the defending champions,” he said. “This generation of players, led by Mahdi Ali, has gained considerable experience, though they are still young. They have grown up together and now have played a lot of international matches with the senior team, as well.

“So we will go to Saudi Arabia, not looking back but ahead, since we have a bigger challenge coming up in the shape of the Asian Cup. If we do well in the Gulf Cup, we will can go to Australia with our confidence high.”

The Gulf Cup will be played in Riyadh from November 13 to 26. The UAE, who won the tournament in Bahrain last year, will play their opening group match on November 14, followed by the second on November 17 and the last one on November 20.

The semi-finals are scheduled for November 23, while the third-place play-off will take place a day before the November 26 finale. Mohammed expects the UAE to be one of the two sides playing for the title, with hosts Saudi Arabia viewed as the most likely opponent.

“With all due respect to the rest of the teams taking part in the competition, I think the Saudi team will be the only threat to the UAE,” he said. “They will be playing at home, among their fans, and this will give them an advantage.”

The UAE team will be camping in Austria from August 13 to September 7, as part of their Gulf Cup preparations, and will play friendly matches against Norway in Oslo on August 27, before returning to Austria to take on Lithuania on September 3. The UAE play Paraguay on the final day of camp.

However, the six Al Ain players included in the 26-member squad for the camp – Khalid Essa, Mohammed Ahmed, Mohaned Salem, Ismail Ahmed, Mohammed Fawzi and Omar Abdulrahman – will not join the team until August 28.

Al Ain manager Zlatko Dalic’s men play Saudi club Al Ittihad in the two-legged AFC Champions League quarter-final on August 19 and August 26.

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