The UAE players participate in a training session ahead of their match against Thailand. The UAE are currently at the top of the table with four points from two matches. Image Credit: AFP

Abu Dhabi: Hosts UAE will be meeting Thailand in a crucial last Group A fixture of the AFC Asian Cup at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on Monday. The action starts at 8pm.

The UAE are currently at the top of the table with four points from two matches but cannot afford to lax as every team in this group has a chance of progressing to the round of 16.

‘The Whites’ are almost certain of qualifying and even if they lose, should go through as one of the best finished third place teams but they will be keen to keep their winning momentum going.

In terms of performance, the team is progressing and I hope the performance will better further and in the coming match, you’ll see something else.

- Alberto Zaccheroni | UAE coach

“First of all, we are so happy that we won the last match and nearly qualified for the last 16, but our focus will be high on achieving the top spot and qualifying without waiting for the result of the other match,” said coach Alberto Zaccheroni in the prematch press conference.

“In terms of performance, the team is progressing and I hope the performance will better further and in the coming match, you’ll see something else.

The Asian teams have shown a lot of development and progress, but after qualifying we will face strong teams in the coming stages. As of now, our focus is on winning the coming match,” added Zaccheroni.

“We need to perform at our best level, better than our previous matches. For me, tomorrow’s match won’t be easy. I spoke to the players after the India game where I’m telling that every match is important,” said Zaccheroni.

“For me, the players are fully ready — not just the 11 players but in this competition we rely on 23 players,” revealed Zaccheroni adding that he was forced to play compact in defence and not be very aggressive because of the speed of the opponents.

“That was the biggest issue for our team, the speed of the Asian teams. Even in the UAE League they don’t have this element, but I’m sure by the end of this match we are more developed,” said Zaccheroni, who justified that he wasn’t applying any defensive tactics like any Italian team but keeping in mind the strength of his side.

“Most coaches in the current tournament play with 4-2-3-1 and all the coaches imitate the same, but we play in 4-3-3 system because it matches the potential of our players. Our goal always is to win in all games,” said Zaccheroni.

Thailand, on the other hand, suffered a shock 4-1 defeat at the hands of India in the opener but they have bounced back brilliantly since.

Under assistant coach Sirisak Yodyardthai, who took over as interim coach following the firing of Milovan Rajevac, Thailand defeated Bahrain 1-0 and have kept their hopes alive of progressing. A win will see them through to the next round straight.

A draw would bring in all the permutation and combination into picture and a lot would also depend on the result of the India versus Bahrain match, scheduled to be played simultaneously in Sharjah. UAE, in their previous head-to-head with Thailand, have won seven, drawn three and lost two matches.

Last time the two teams played each other was in the Fifa World Cup qualifiers in 2017 and the match had ended in a 1-1 stalemate.