Abu Dhabi: UAE coach Mahdi Ali and his wards are certainly flying high in their Arabian magic carpets. Their journey in the Asian Cup qualifiers so far has been so remarkable that coaches from Hong Kong and Vietnam have rated UAE as a team in a “league of their own”.
This year, they have won the Gulf Cup of Nations, OSN Cup in Saudi Arabia and have won all their four matches for cementing a place for the 2015 Asian Cup finals.
After handing a 10-man Vietnam 5-0 humiliating thrashing on Tuesday, Mahdi Ali has now extended his unbeaten run to 19 matches. “It has been a remarkable year for us. Now, we need to raise the level of this team and for that we have to play friendlies against opponents who are ranked in 30s and 40s in Fifa for our future preparations,” said the Emirati manager.
Against minnows Vietnam, Walid Abbas, old warhorse Ismail Matar, Ali Mabkhout, Habib Fardan and Ahmad Khalil joined in the goal feast with a strike each. “We are really happy with the team’s progress and with the result against Vietnam. We won 5-0 and it could have been a bigger margin had we scored from the many chances we created. We were a bit unlucky in the second half,” said Ali, whose team’s next outing will be an away match against Uzbekistan in March.
With ace striker Ali Mabkhout returning from a one-match ban, the coach only made one notable change in the start line, leaving out his first choice goalkeeper Ali Kasheif and bringing in Khaled Eisa, playing his first match of the tournament.
With plenty of resources on hand and many players waiting in the wings for an opportunity, many felt that the coach should have opted for more changes but Mahdi insisted that it would have been a wrong move. “Whenever we have played friendlies, I have made sure to provide everyone an opportunity and you will see that more players will get chances. We don’t want to make too many changes in a game as we want to keep the balance going. It was important to keep the momentum,” said Mahdi.
Afro hair-styled Omar Abdulrahman was in a class of his own and left the crowd enthralled with his skills. A player of his calibre clearly has the potential to fit into any team in Europe, but coach Ali felt it was totally up to the player to make that decision.
“There is no doubt about his talent but you have to understand it is difficult to fit into the culture and system of the teams in Europe. It is up to Omar to decide if he wants to or if he is ready to make that transition,” felt his mentor.
Vietnam’s assistant coach Nguiyen Van Sys, meanwhile, said: “We didn’t have much of a chance against a quality team like UAE but we didn’t expect to lose 5-0. The red card at the beginning of the match hurt us badly. The UAE are a good side and their midfielder Omar was very impressive. We now have a match in hand and would like to make the most of it.”