Dubai: The 21st Gulf Cup in Bahrain represents the first serious opportunity for highly-rated coach Mahdi Ali to prove his worth as manager of the UAE’s senior national team.
The Emirati was the natural choice as the nation’s full-time coach last year as a replacement for caretaker Dr Abdullah Misfir, who had filled in last season following the sacking of Srecko Katanec following a poor run in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
Ali enjoyed great success with the UAE’s youth teams, nurturing the same group of players to a series of achievements as they grew older, culminating in last year’s first ever Olympic Games appearance for the Under-23 side. And with the bulk of that team now in the senior squad, hopes are high that Ali can lead the UAE to unprecedented success.
“We need to trust the vision of the technical staff. Most of the players have been with Ali in the national Olympic team and the youth national team and he knows them well,” said Mohammad Obaid, General Supervisor of the UAE team.
“The average age of the players is so encouraging. We want to have a team for the future to cope with the plan of the football association to be in the top three teams in Asia in 2015. Let’s think of a national team capable of representing the country in the different competitions ahead.”
As well as the Gulf Cup, which the UAE start today with a match against Qatar, Ali is also shaping his team for the upcoming qualifiers for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup and long-term in the hope of reaching the 2018 World Cup.
“I’m optimistic when I see our team improving from 126 to 96 in the Fifa rankings in less than six months,” Obaid said. “This is a very good and promising indication if we consider that Mahdi Ali took over in August. He played seven friendlies and won five of them. The only defeat was 0-1 from Japan in the first warm-up.
“We will play against Qatar, Bahrain and Oman [in the Gulf Cup group stage]. Both Qatar and Oman are still fighting for a berth in the 2014 World Cup finals and Bahrain is the home team. Our first clash against Qatar is very crucial for our campaign and a win will improve our chances in the chase for the title.”