Abu Dhabi: All the success the UAE have achieved so far in the 21st Gulf Cup will mean nothing if they do not win their semi-final match against Kuwait on Tuesday.
The UAE have been the most talked-about and praised team in the preliminary rounds after their Emirati coach, Mahdi Ali, led them to three wins out of three. There have been a host of good performances, despite the fact that many of the team’s players are debutantes in the regional tournament and totally lack the experience of competing in such an event.
UAE football officials and media have talked about the togetherness and shared experiences of the team, with players playing in the Under-17 AFC Junior Championship then the Under-19 Asian Cup and the Under-23 Gulf Cup. They then took part in the Olympic Games in London last year with the same coach and most of the same players, which created mutual understanding between them and their technical staff.
But that’s all history now and on Tuesday a new phase for the team begins when they face their most crucial 90 minutes of the Gulf Cup so far. Kuwait are the most successful team in the history of the Gulf Cup with a record 10 titles and they are also the defending champions.
Their credentials should make the UAE players take them very seriously, especially following their win over Saudi Arabia on Saturday, when they showcased their fast counter-attacking style to perfection.
Kuwaiti officials and players have been playing mind games with the UAE players by calling them “a super team” and declaring that they can’t be beaten.
But Mahdi Ali and his assistants are fully aware of this psychological warfare and will have their men well prepared for battle on Tuesday night.