Manama: UAE coach Mahdi Ali has warned his players of the threat posed by Kuwait ahead of Tuesday’s Gulf Cup semi-final at the National Stadium from 5.15pm UAE time.
The current holders and record ten-time champions may have stuttered through Group B with two unconvincing wins over Yemen and Saudi Arabia with a loss to Iraq, but it’s their superior experience, particularly in the latter stages of this competition, that worries Ali.
Since the tournament’s 1970 inception, the UAE have won the Gulf Cup only once, in 2007, and this is only their third trip to the semi-finals since the event switched from a round-robin format in 2004. The Kuwaitis, though, have previously dominated despite early setbacks.
While the UAE won all three of their group games and are brimming with confidence, Kuwait are still capable of a second-round gear change. And that’s a thought that perturbs Ali.
He said: “Regardless of what level they [Kuwait] play in other competitions, whether in World Cup qualifiers or the Asian Cup, when it comes to the Gulf Cup they are a completely different force.
“They know how to deal with this competition and many of their players have experience of two or three Gulf Cup campaigns.”
Ali added: “From the first match to the third, they have improved a lot. There are many things that cause this and the experience from previous competitions is a key factor.
“We face a very hard opponent in Kuwait, who are the best team in the history of the tournament. In some years they may have faced difficulties, but they’ve still finished first. They are a well-organised team who know how to get a result out of a match with teamwork.”
Ali, whose men topped Group A, were prepared for any opponent in the semi-finals, added: “We are ready for Kuwait. We have no injury problems and hope to play a better game than the previous three.
“There’s no diplomacy. We want to win the competition, but the final is another story and first we must overcome Kuwait. Whoever comes next, we’ll be ready for them.” Of the growing expectation surrounding his squad, Ali said: “We’ve been together many years and we know the ability of the players. Compliments won’t affect them. You’ve seen what we can achieve and we know what we can do.
“I’ve heard 21 planes for fans have been put on to come over and see us. That doesn’t daunt us; in fact it gives us a push to try, and make all these supporters happy. Whatever happens, we’ll leave this match knowing that what we did was our best.”