UAE’s Ali Mabkhout celebrates with teammates after scoring against Thailand in the Group A clash on Monday. Image Credit: AP

Al Ain: The UAE may have finished at the top of Group A in the AFC Asian Cup following their 1-1 draw against Thailand, but they are well aware they have been below their best.

None of the players wanted to talk to the media following the result with the exception of goalkeeper Khalid Eisa, who was outstanding as usual under the bar. “We are not satisfied with the performance, but we qualified on the top. Now, we need to consider if we need to make any changes in the line-up,” he said.

Though the UAE took an early lead through a header from Ali Mabkhout, the 79th ranked Whites failed to keep up that intensity against their rivals ranked 118 in the world.

“I don’t think we should dwell too much on the performance as we still managed to finish at the top of the group. Yes, we have to adapt better, especially the players who have just come into the side,” said Eisa, adding there was no need to respond to the fans or media’s worries at the moment.

“The next team will be more difficult and we will have to be very cautious and have to concentrate better. We are aware that one mistake will put us out of the tournament. We will have to look to minimise the mistakes. We have to sit in the coming days and analyse our performance,” asserted Eisa, who came up with a couple of exceptional saves to keep the UAE in the game till the end.

Coach Alberto Zaccheroni, meanwhile, has been making it a ritual to apologise to their fans for his team’s lacklustre performance and then end the post-match briefing with the promise that his team will up the tempo in the next outing.

“In all three matches we controlled them and, all in all, we were better than the other teams,” said Zaccheroni, adding that he was expecting an improved performance from the team.

“We scored the early goal and controlled the game, but after scoring we conceded the equaliser and lost concentration. We didn’t take advantage of playing at home,” the Italian said.

The 65-year-old veteran, however, has zeroed in on UAE’s problems and felt his side struggled on the breakaways. “We are playing a compact, defensive style and the two goals we conceded were from counter-attacks. It is something we need to be guarded against,” said Zaccheroni.

Putting up a brave face by saying that he wasn’t very bothered whom his team plays next in the round of 16, the Italian said: “Whoever is that opponent, we will be trying to prepare ourselves well. None of the teams or matches from now on are going to be easy and we will try to keep improving.”

Meanwhile, Thailand under the leadership of interim coach Sirisak Yodyadthai, has looked a completely different side. The 49-year-old took over after Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac was sacked following their 4-1 rout against India. The War Elephants went on to beat Bahrain 1-0 before pulling out a crucial draw against the UAE.

Understandably, coach Yodyadthai was over the moon and expressed his delight. “Before the game today, I was worried because coming into this match we knew it would be tough against the hosts, but the team was well prepared to play today,” he said.