Sport | Football

UAE dampen Gulf Cup expectations

Ali’s side will keep one eye on Asian Cup qualifiers during Bahrain showpiece

  • By Ashley Hammond, Staff Reporter
  • Published: 20:24 January 4, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Gulf News Archives
  • Gulf News Archives Cups and downs The UAE have not won the highly competitive Gulf Cup since they lifted the trophy on home soil in 2007 and they know it will be a tough task again.

Manama: The UAE kick off their 21st Gulf Cup campaign against Qatar at the Khalifa Sports City Stadium in Bahrain’s Isa Town tomorrow from 10.15pm UAE time.

It’s their first of three games in Group A of this prestigious regional competition, which is held every two years, with crunch matches against Bahrain and Oman to follow on Tuesday and Friday.

Group B, which consists of Kuwait, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, will also 0kick-off tomorrow, with subsequent fixtures to be played on Wednesday and Sunday.

The top two teams from each group will progress to the January 15 semi-finals, while the final will be played on January 18.

The Gulf Cup will be Mahdi Ali’s first competitive test as coach of the senior team, having previously led the UAE’s under-23 side to the Olympic Games for the first time in the nation’s history last year.

Since the Gulf Cup’s inception in 1970, the UAE have only won the tournament once — in 2007. But with the crux of the 2010 Under-23 Gulf Cup-winning squad filtering into Ali’s senior team after their Olympic debut last year, there’s cautious hope of the UAE reclaiming the title.

Under Ali, the UAE’s senior team have won recent friendlies against regional rivals convincingly. They beat Kuwait 3-0, Bahrain 6-2 and Yemen 3-1 and 2-0 in the latter half of last year, but now Ali faces the unenviable task of balancing the expectations of the fans with the endurance of his players, who will play vital 2015 Asian Cup qualifiers against Uzbekistan, Hong Kong and Vietnam from next month.

Ali said: “Frankly, winning the Gulf Cup was not one of our priorities. We, the UAE FA and the technical and administrative staff of the national team, have set our priorities as reaching the finals of the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia and the finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. But we realise the importance of the Gulf Cup and we will be doing our best to compete for the title.

“We aspire to provide a good level of football and we hope the team gets adequate preparation to help us put on an honourable display. We hope to give a performance that satisfies the supporters.

“It’s not necessarily a priority or preference to win the ­title, but it is important to play in an honourable manner. All the games are likely to be strong and equal and there will be no easy games.”

Asked about which group is stronger, bearing in mind that Group B includes teams that have won 16 of the 20 titles — Kuwait (10) and Saudi Arabia and Iraq (three each) — Ali said: “The teams of the first group [Group A] are almost of the same standard, which makes it difficult and more competitive and unpredictable, but in the other group {Group B] there are clear favourites to reach the semi-finals.”

Striker Esmail Matar of Al Wahda and defender Mohammad Ahmad of Al Ain have been as anxious to temper expectations heading into the tournament. Matar 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, so it will be tough.”

Ahmad added: “We have to respect the aspirations of the other GCC nations and their desire to win, but we must also prove ourselves that we can achieve the results desired by UAE fans.

“We are well aware that the competition will be strong between GCC teams and we will always remember the great expectations of our fans. That support will help us to redouble our efforts to confirm the strength of UAE football.”

Fact Box

Group A

Bahrain

Oman

Qatar

UAE

Group B

Kuwait

Yemen

Saudi Arabia

Yemen

Fixtures

(Kick-offs in UAE time, local time is one hour behind)

Group stage

Jan 5 — Bahrain vs Oman, 8.15pm at Bahrain National Stadium, Riffa (NS)

Jan 5 — Qatar vs UAE, 10.15pm at Khalifa Sports City, Isa Town (KS)

Jan 6 — Kuwait vs Yemen, 5.15pm at KS

Jan 6 — KSA vs Iraq, 8.15pm at KS

Jan 8 — Qatar vs Oman, 5.15pm at NS

Jan 8 — Bahrain vs UAE, 8.15pm at NS

Jan 9 — Iraq vs Kuwait, 5.15pm at KS

Jan 9 — Yemen vs KSA, 8.15pm at KS

Jan 11 — UAE vs Oman, 6.45pm at KS

Jan 11 — Bahrain vs Qatar, 6.45pm at NS

Jan 12 — Kuwait vs KSA, 6.45pm at NS

Jan 12 — Iraq vs Yemen, 6.45pm at KS

Semi-finals

Jan 15 — A1 vs B2, 5.45pm at NS

Jan 15 — B1 vs A2, 8.45pm at NS

Third place play-off

Jan 18 — LSF1 vs LSF2, 4.30pm at KS

Final

Jan 18 — WSF1 vs WSF2, 6.45pm at NS

PREVIOUS WINNERS

2010 — Kuwait

2009 — Oman

2007 — United Arab Emirates

2004 — Qatar

2003 — Saudi Arabia

2002 — Saudi Arabia

1998 — Kuwait

1996 — Kuwait

1994 — Saudi Arabia

1992 — Qatar

1990 — Kuwait

1988 — Iraq

1986 — Kuwait

1984 — Iraq

1982 — Kuwait

1979 — Iraq

1976 — Kuwait

1974 — Kuwait

1972 — Kuwait

1970 — Kuwait

Gulf News
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