DUBAI // Mahdi Ali announced his provisional squad for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia on Wednesday and it contained some good, bad and surprising news.
UAE fans will be relieved to know key midfielder Omar Abdulrahman has resumed training and will travel with the squad to Australia next week. He was last seen limping off a pitch in Saudi Arabia on November 23 with an apparent ankle injury.
“Omar is fine,” Mahdi Ali said Wednesday. “We consulted two doctors and he does not need an operation. He has started jogging and needs five to seven days to get back to full fitness. Amer Abdulrahman, as well, has a minor knock and should recover.”
Less-welcome news was the omission from the side of captain Ismail Matar, who will be out with injury for at least another three weeks.
The surprise was the inclusion in the side of several players who did not take part in the Gulf Cup of Nations in Saudi Arabia.
“The new players aren’t really new to the squad, they’ve been around before,” Mahdi Ali said.
“We have seen the return of Majed Naser, who has been through some tough times recently; we wish him the best. Hassan Ibrahim from Al Shabab has also performed really well in the league.
“Haboush Saleh and Saeed Al Kathiri have been around the team for a while, and we believe these players are the best equipped to be in the squad.”
The manager is unconcerned that six players have, of late, not been in their club’s first team. He said several had their time limited by injuries, which some have blamed on Gulf Cup and Arabian Gulf League fixtures.
“We’ve heard a lot about the schedule, but it’s not the FA or the manager that sets the league matches,” Mahdi Ali said. “Al Ain are playing on the 22nd because of their participation in the Asian Champions League. We wanted to give some players two or three days rest.
“But the league has to take into account the start and finish dates of the programme, as well as the Gulf Cup and Asian Cup. You cannot compare it to Europe where there are no [national team] competitions during the season, and the World Cup takes place in the summer.”
He will be leading the senior side for the third time in a major competition.
“This is not the first time we’ve approached competitions with injuries,” he said.
Mahdi Ali reiterated his support of striker Ali Mabkhout, top scorer at the Gulf Cup with five goals. A few years ago, the coach said, he received more criticism for including the Al Jazira forward than any other player in the national team. “We always believed he will have a big future – he will be even better in the future. He is well-behaved and hard-working and does not let praise go to his head.”
The coach, 50, said his players are keen to get to Australia. Their first game is versus Gulf Cup champions Qatar on January 11.
“The Asian Cup was more of a priority than Gulf Cup,” he said. “Over the last week I received three or four calls from players and they assured me they are fully motivated. It’s a good sign that they want to do even better.”
He said a quick UAE exit from the 2011 Asian Cup does not concern him. “We consider what happened then to be in the past. We know what we want now. … We hope to get a positive result against Qatar. We hope we live up to expectations.”
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