Manama: Iraq boss Hakeem Shaker lavished praise on his UAE counterpart Mahdi Ali, heading into today’s Gulf Cup final between the two sides at the National Stadium.
Both Shaker and Ali are the only coaches in this two-week eight-team competition who are native to the country they are representing. Ironically all the foreigners have crashed their squads out early, with some, Saudi Arabia’s Frank Rijkaard and Qatar’s Paulo Autuori in particular, even losing their jobs in the process.
Shaker has continually used pre- and post-match conferences to sing the praises of local coaches, even calling this the local coaches’ chance to shine, but in the pre-match press meet for the Gulf Cup final on Thursday he cranked his superlatives for Ali up a gear in a mode bordering on mind games.
Shaker, whose side is, like UAE, unbeaten after topping Group B and overcoming Bahrain 4-2 on penalties in the semi-final, said: “Yes, we have talented players in the Gulf but we also have talented coaches. For the decisive match the two coaches are nationals while all the foreigners have all had problems.
“Some nations prefer a high profile name not real coaches who give input to a team. Coaching has become a science and Mahdi Ali tops a list of all talented coaches in the region.
“The UAE have taken the right approach under Ali, with a long-term plan like the Dutch or the Germans, planning for the future. They gave trust to Ali and that’s why he’s achieved so many milestones.”
Shaker, whose side beat Saudi 2-0, Kuwait 1-0 and Yemen 2-0 to top Group B unbeaten and with three clean sheets, added: “Tomorrow is the time for achievement, whether for the UAE or Iraq. We are both the best of the best. Neither side has lost a match but the best of the best will win tomorrow.
“It will be difficult but nothing is impossible. We believe we deserve the Cup and we will utilise all our chances tomorrow to score and win.”
Adding that he was without injured defender Walid Salim, Shaker said: “There isn’t as much pressure as the semi, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be careful. We will be precise there’s only one chance, it’s win or lose.”