Ahmed Khalil has long been earmarked to take over as the No 1 striker in the national team and that role may come earlier than expected after his outstanding performance in leading the UAE to the Under 23 Gulf Cup final. Khalil, 19, is definitely one for the future and his contributions to the team in Qatar will surely have been monitored by Srecko Katanec, the national team coach, ahead of the 20th Gulf Cup in Yemen, from November 22 to December 4, followed by the Asian Cup in Qatar in January.
On current form the young Al Ahli striker could be named as the first-choice striker ahead of Al Wahda's Ismail Matar, who has not impressed in the national team since his remarkable five goals to lead the UAE to their first Gulf Cup when they hosted the tournament in 2007. Mahdi Ali, the coach of the U23 team, said: "Ahmed is an asset to the youth team. I feel he has a bright future ahead of him, and he can serve the senior national team for a long time.
"If he is playing for the senior national team or remaining in the Olympic team is a decision for the country's football hierarchy. But there is no need to rush him, because he has age on his side and could serve the country better, if he's handled carefully." Khalil has already won 13 international caps in the senior team and Ali saw no reason why he should not travel to Yemen and Qatar. "There is nothing for him to prove and he has done pretty well whenever he's been given the opportunity in both, the youth and the senior national teams," Ali said.
"It is a matter of looking after his well-being between the tournaments." Ali also knows Khalil better than anyone else because they are from the same club. He said: "Ahmed does his job well and has proved to be an above average player at his age level. He is also a strong lad with excellent skills and high technical level and, more importantly, a cool head resting on his young shoulders. "Players like him provide confidence to the team and makes the job of the technical staff a lot easier."
Khalil was the top scorer in the U19 Asian Cup, which the UAE won in Saudi Arabia in 2008, and they reached the last eight in the U20 World Cup in Egypt last year. Khalil won the 2008 Asian Youth Player of the Year. Khalil took his tally in this tournament to four goals from three matches when he scored twice in the UAE's 3-1 triumph over Qatar in their semi-final clash on Wednesday evening. He was on to a pass from Amer Abdulrahman as quick as a flash to round the goalkeeper and net his first and then fired a stinging shot to double his team's lead and set up the platform to reach tomorrow's final in their first championship appearance.
"It was crucial to take the lead at the half hour and that provided more confidence as we were more in control of the game in the second half," Ali said. "Qatar managed to score late in the game when some of the players started to drop their guards, which means we still have some areas to cover when we face Kuwait in the final." The UAE face Kuwait in tomorrow's final at the Aspire Stadium in Doha having already played out a 1-1 draw in their final group match.
Qatar, meanwhile, play Oman in the play-off for third place tonight (KO 5.30pm) in the Qatar capital. @Email:email@example.com