Abu Dhabi: The UAE host Uzbekistan at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium on Friday in a crucial Group E qualifier for the 2015 Asian Cup to be played in Australia.
The UAE lead the group with three points after they beat Vietnam 2-1 in an away game last month. The Uzbeks, the group favourites, had to settle for a goalless draw with Hong Kong in Tashkent.
However, the UAE will be without their injured star midfielder Omar Abdul Rahman.
Head coach Mahdi Ali will use either UAE captain Esmail Mattar or Sultan Bargash, who was called up at the last minute to replace the midfielder, in his playmaking position.
The UAE shifted their training to the venue of the match on Wednesday after holding their past sessions at the external grounds of Zayed Sports City.
The mood in the camp is one of determination, with the players well aware that a win over the Uzbeks would go a long way to securing their place at the Australia extravaganza.
“The match will be difficult in because Uzbekistan lost two valuable points from their opener at home and will do their best to compensate for that loss because they realise we are their most serious rivals in the group.” Mutrif Al Shamis, the team’s manager, told Gulf News.
“There are no secrets between the two teams, who have played against each other many times.
“We have confidence in our players and I do believe that the rest of the team will cover for the absence of Omar [Abdul Rahman]. The strength of our team is from all the players, and not from individuals.” Al Shamsi added.
The UAE will also fancy their chances of a win given their good record against Uzbekistan. The two teams have met 12 times since 1996, five of which were friendly matches, four were in qualifiers for the World Cup and three in the qualifiers of the Asian Cup. The UAE have won six times, drawn three and lost three. The last time they met officially was in March 2010 in Tashkent in the qualifiers of the 2011 Asian Cup and the UAE won with a single goal scored by Bargash.
The two teams also played a friendly in October last year, which finished in a 2-2 draw.
The UAE’s under-23 team also have happy memories of playing Uzbekistan, given that it was their 3-2 win over these opponents in May last year which secured their place at the London Olympics.