Dubai: UAE coach Bert van Marwijk has warned his men against throwing caution to the wind when they face Yemen in their 24th Arabian Gulf Cup opener at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha on Tuesday (kick-off 22.30 UAE).
The two sides clash in the second of two Group A contests, scheduled for the opening day, with Asian champions Qatar and Iraq getting the eight-team tournament under way earlier in the evening.
Dutchman Van Marwijk’s UAE squad was announced late on Sunday night, with key playmaker Omar Abdul Rahman a notable absentee in the 24-man UAE squad that flew out on a private jet on Monday morning. Al Jazira playmaker Abdul Rahman captained the UAE recently but misses out as he continues his rehabilitation from injuries, while Waleed Abbas and Ali Salmeen were also sidelined due to injury. Top-scorer Ali Mabkhout will spearhead the Emirates’ attack during the competition.
After Yemen tonight, the Whites, twice winners, as hosts in 2007 and at the 2013 renewal in Bahrain, face Iraq in their second game on November 29 and lock horns with hosts Qatar in their final game on December 2.
Van Marwijk, however, doesn’t want them to look beyond tonight’s clash and said: “We will play to win and nothing else: that should be enough impetus for us.
“Starting well in the tournament is very important because we are looking to go all the way and to qualify for the next phase, we need to book one of the two semi-final spots.
“We have a good team of players and I am confident they are capable of achieving good results. We have to focus on ourselves and believe, but at the same time we cannot be too confident. We have to stay focused on the job ahead and that is winning this game.”
If they make the semis, the UAE could face either of the sides in Group B, comprising defending champions Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. It would, of course, depend on their position in the group and defender Hamdan Al Kamali has urged his colleagues to go for the jugular in every game.
“We have to play hard and do whatever we can to win and finish off the game because that will put us in a strong position and give us a moral boost. First games are always important and these results have a big bearing on the team’s future in the tournament. We are looking to reach the semis for now and for that we have to win each of the games in the group phase,” he said.
Yemen have never won a game in seven previous appearances in the tournament and last beat the UAE in a 2006 World Cup qualification game in September 2004. But as the old maxim goes, the slate is wiped clean and Sami Al Nash knows that only too well.
In his fourth stint as Yemen’s coach, Al Nash has put his faith in the youth and called up a number of Olympic team players to join the ranks in Doha. Since starting his fourth stint as manager in July, Yemen have drawn twice, lost twice and won once.
“Our group is difficult with Qatar, Iraq and the UAE all really strong teams that have done very well in past editions of the competition. However, we aren’t here to just make numbers and will do our best to keep our pride intact,” Al Nash said.
All the main sports networks in each of the participating countries are expected to televise the games live, meaning fans in the UAE should be able to catch the action live on Abu Dhabi and Dubai Sports channels.
Goalkeepers: Ali Khaseif, Khalid Eisa, Mohammed Al Shamsi, Adel Al Hosani
Defenders: Mohammed Marzooq, Mohammed Barghash, Khalifa Al Nubi, Yousef Jaber, Al Hassan Saleh, Hamdan Al Kamali
Midfielders: Mohammed Al Attas, Majid Sorour, Khalil Al Hammadi, Bandar Al Ahbabi, Ismail Al Hammadi, Abdullah Ramadan, Ahmed Barman, Salem Rashid, Tariq Ahmed
Forwards: Ali Mabkhout, Ahmed Khalil, Khalfan Mubarak, Jassem Yaqoub, Ali Saleh
Nov 26: UAE vs Yemen
Nov 29: UAE vs Iraq
Dec 2: UAE vs Qatar
— The author is a sports journalist based in the UAE