Abu Dhabi: UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni will be missing the services key defender Khalifa Mubarak through injury and midfielder Khamis Esmail, who is serving a one-match suspension for the Asian Cup quarter-final clash against Australia in Al Ain on Friday. However, the Italian master tactician is confident that nothing can deter them when they take on the defending champions at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium at 8pm.
“The UAE are fully aware of the importance of facing the champions of the Asian Cup. They play at a high level but we are fully focused on this game and our levels have risen remarkably after every game,” said Zaccheroni.
The Whites registered a hard-fought 3-2 win against Kyrgyzstan in extra-time during the last 16, and also struggled in the group stages against Bahrain and Thailand.
However, Zaccheroni is confident that his entire squad is pumped up for the challenge ahead and they are well aware that they needed to rise to the occasion.
“The confidence of the players remains high after we reached the last eight stage,” said Zaccheroni, who had led Japan past Australia to clinch the title in 2011. “Obviously, it’s not going to be an easy game for us but we are well-prepared and ready to take them on.”
Zaccheroni rates the 2011 Australia side as side slightly better than the current crop, due to the presence of some individuals who were the face of the Socceroos.
“That Australia team had some significant names, especially players like Tim Cahill,” he said. “Obviously, that team cannot be compared with the present side after eight years.
“They are still a good team and play compact. They don’t have the individual skills as the one in 2011 but collectively a very strong side. They are a very strong team and well-organised. As the coach, I have a big responsibility to achieve results for the UAE.”
The hosts have so far conceded four goals and their defence has been found wanting at times, especially during counter-attacks. The absence of Khalifa might hurt dearly, but Zaccheroni insisted that he had suitable replacements for every position.
“Khalifa has been ruled out and is already taking treatment in Germany,” he said. “But we have 23 players in the squad and we have adequate cover for any injured players.
“They are all ready to take up any responsibility and perform at the same level. The players are fully aware of this Australian side and are aware of their quality in every line. We will play to our own strengths and my players are going into this game with a lot of confidence. We will do everything within our abilities to win this game for our fans.”
UAE defender Faras Juma urged fans to keep faith in the side and come out in large numbers to support.
“We encourage our fans to continue to be behind us in support at every game we play,” he said. “We will give our best on the pitch to get the results for them. Of course, there are a lot of expectations to achieve the results for our fans and we are fully focused on it, regardless of the pressure on the team.”
Australia also haven’t had a smooth ride so far in the tournament. After being shocked by Jordan in their Group B opener, the Socceroos outplayed Palestine before edging Syria in extra-time. They then made it to the last eight thanks to the brilliance of their goalkeeper Mathew Ryan, who got them past Uzbekistan on penalties.
Coach Graham Arnold said: “The side has recovered well following the penalty shoot-out win against Uzbekistan. The boys are in fantastic head space and probably playing those extra minutes has built a lot of confidence and I believe in the group. Seeing the performances there is lot of improvement left in the group and I expect a good performance from them tomorrow.
“Everyone likes to play in a great atmosphere. The full stadium for the UAE can work in two ways — it can help or it can put lot of pressure on them being the home nation.
“You know there is a big fence between the fans and the players and everyone in my team have the experience to deal with all sort of emotion.”
CATCH THE MATCH
South Korea v Qatar, Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi, 5pm
UAE v Australia, Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain, 8pm