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UAE coach Mahdi Ali in crisis talks with UAE Football Association

Olaroiu or Jovanovic in line to replace Whites supremo as inquest is launched into Saudi defeat

Image Credit: AFP
Saudi Arabia’s Salman Al-Faraj (centre) tackled by UAE’s Tariq Ahmad during the 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between the two teams in Jeddah on Tuesday.
Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Mahdi Ali, the UAE coach, was on Thursday holding crisis talks with the President of the UAE Football Association (UAEFA) Marwan Bin Galita as speculation over his future grows.

Gulf News understands that Cosmin Olaroiu, the Ah Ahli coach, and Ivan Jovanovic of Al Nasr are in line to replace Ali if Bin Ghalita decides to wield the axe.

As Gulf News reported on Thursday, ‘Sack Mahdi Ali’ was a top-trending hashtag on Twitter in the UAE in the wake of the humbling 3-0 defeat away to arch-rivals Saudi Arabia on Tuesday evening.

This was the UAE’s second loss in four games in the final round of the 2018 Fifa World Cup Asian qualifiers, leaving them fourth in Group B, with only the top-two finishers guaranteed to reach Russia 2018 along with those from Group A.

Hopes had been high that the Whites could qualify for their second World Cup after their Italia 1990 debut given their recent success on the continental stage, including a third-place finish at the 2015 Asian Cup.

The UAE FA launched a ‘Together We Can’ motivational campaign on social media in the summer and the UAE responded in style with a stunning 2-1 away win in Japan to launch their Group B campaign last month.

But five days later, a late Tim Cahill goal saw them suffer a dispiriting defeat to Australia in Abu Dhabi, although Thailand were dispatched 3-1 with rudimentary ease last Thursday in the capital.

Then came a disastrous night in Jeddah on Tuesday, when Ali’s side shipped three goals in the final 17 minutes after appearing set to secure a valuable point.

Of most concern to Bin Galita and his fellow UAE FA officials is the fact that the UAE have been prone to conceding late goals due to defensive lapses.

Ali’s tactics against the Saudis have also come under scrutiny, particularly his decision to start star striker Ahmad Khalil when the latter was clearly not fully fit.

Ali replaced Khalil with the midfielder Hassan Safar after 57 minutes, with critics suggesting the Al Ahli forward should have been deployed as an impact substitute.

The decision was ostensibly made to combat the Saudis’ growing midfield dominance and to settle for a vital point, but it backfired and left Khalil’s strike partner Ali Mabkhout stranded up front.

Meanwhile, Ali’s opposite number Bert van Marwijik’s own substitution of Nasser Al Shamrani for Fawad Al Muwallad proved a masterstroke when the latter opened the scoring with a sublime volley in the 73rd minute.

Bin Galita will also want to review with Ali the wisdom of holding an arduous, month-long summer training camp in Spain.

Ali had personally asked for this, but some critics believe the players have been left mentally and physically exhausted by over-training coupled with their exacting club commitments.

This theory certainly seemed to be borne out by their sluggish displays against the Saudis and Australia.

Iraq are next on the agenda for the Whites in their fifth Group B game on Tuesday, November 15, and victory for Ali is imperative if he wants to remain in the UAE hot seat.

That is, of course, if he has not been jettisoned by then.