Dubai: UAE national football team coach Mahdi Ali has urged his side to get better as they bid to qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup and not lose focus after their Gulf Cup triumph last month.
“Now that we are Gulf champions, people expect more and more from this team,” Ali told Gulf News on the sidelines of the 2nd CBD Athletics Championships held at the Dubai Police Officers’ Club here on Saturday. “We are happy and proud of what we have done so far. But we also need to continue at the same level, if not get even better with time.
“There has never been a change in our goals. This team has consistently shown what it is capable of during the last few years and now after winning the Gulf Cup and starting off with full points in the Asian Cup qualifiers, I can see no changes coming through for this team.”
Ali was honoured by the CBD for his role in guiding the UAE to its second Gulf Cup title in Bahrain earlier last month. Peter Baltusen, chief executive officer of CBD, was joined by Mohammad Faisal Al Galadari, General Manager, Business Group, CBD and Dr Ahmad Saad Al Sharif, General Secretary, Dubai Sports Council (DSC), in honouring the UAE national team coach.
“What we have achieved so far as a team is only a start,” Ali said. “We have set our goals in what we want to do. The programme is quite clear and we want to take things one step at a time.”
After being appointed to the UAE hotseat at the end of last year, Ali had made it abundantly clear that qualifying for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia and the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia are right on top of his priorities for the national team. The Gulf Cup held in January in Bahrain, which his side won by beating Iraq in the final, was meant to be a mere warm-up for his side’s qualifying campaign for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.
It was the UAE’s second Gulf Cup triumph, following their 2007 success, which was followed their winning start to the Asian Cup qualifying campaign after a 2-1 victory over Vietnam at the My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi on February 6. The UAE are top of Group E with three points, followed by Uzbekistan and Hong Kong with one point each after their goalless draw the same day in Tashkent.
“When a team is playing at this level, there can be no second measures for anyone,” Ali said. “What we have achieved as a team now belongs to the past. We need to be realistic and we need to look at each match as a separate task that needs to be accomplished.”
The UAE next host Uzbekistan at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, while Vietnam make the short trip to Hong Kong on March 22. The UAE coach disclosed that his squad are scheduled to assemble in Abu Dhabi on March 14 to start their preparations for the home game.
“Our third match will be against Hong Kong in October, but that does not mean we will take things easy just because we have a few months in between,” he said. “But right now my focus is on our next match against Uzbekistan [on March 22]. We can’t afford to look too far ahead at the moment and yet we need to be prepared.”