Dubai: UAE striker Esmail Mattar has declared his national team’s intent to lift the Gulf Cup in Bahrain in January ahead of Thursday’s draw for the competition.
Speaking on the sidelines of his agreement to become ambassador for watch brand Sector at the Burj Khalifa’s Armani Hotel on Wednesday, the former 2003 Fifa World Youth Championship golden ball winner and 2007 Gulf Cup titlist, said: “We have a chance to win the Gulf Cup.
“It won’t be easy because matches between other GCC teams are often tougher than when we play in Asia. When we play against each other in the GCC, we really show our aggression on the field. It will be tough,” said the 29-year-old Al Wahda striker, who missed Tuesday’s 6-2 win over Bahrain due to the recurrence of a knee injury.
Speaking about coach Mahdi Ali’s first four friendly games in charge against Japan (0-1), Kuwait (3-0), Uzbekistan (2-2) and Bahrain (6-2), Mattar added: “We are happy with our performances and the results in the last few friendly games in preparation for the tournament. We have a good team, but we are not yet fully organised after the mix of Olympic and senior squad members.”
Mattar added: “Mahdi Ali is a good coach and he has proved that with his success for the national youth team and getting the U23s to the Olympics for the first time. This is the first time in UAE history we have a local coach and it’s something special.”
“The Bahrain win was a big result because neither team has ever beaten each other by that margin before. Uzbekistan are also in the top five in Asia and Japan, who are No 1 in Asia, actually beat France 1-0 recently, so for the UAE to lose 1-0 against them away was actually a fair result.
“The last four games have been good and we hope to continue this form into the Gulf Cup, but friendlies are friendlies and official matches are always different.”
Speaking of his own participation in the tournament, after flying to Germany for regular injections on his knee, Mattar said: “I hope to be fit. Training is okay and I’ve played four league matches and the Uzbek friendly so far this season and felt fine. I’m feeling the improvement and I am in good shape.”
Thursday’s Gulf Cup draw at the National Museum in Manama will decide groups for the tournament, to be held from January 5-18, placing Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Yemen into two groups of four already headed by hosts and defending champions Bahrain and Kuwait. In the biennial competition’s 20-year history, the UAE has previously won it once in 2007.