The UAE sit atop the Group D standings after the first round of fixtures with their victory over Nepal. Image Credit: UAE FA twitter

Al Ain: UAE Under-23 coach Hassan Al Abdouli was quick to remind his players to stay grounded after their 5-0 thrashing of Nepal in their opening Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-23 Championship qualifier in Al Ain on Saturday.

Ahmad Al Attas opened the scoring with an eighth minute penalty and added a second, tapping in at the back post from a cross on 20 minutes.

Mohammad Al Akbari then nodded in a cross on 22 minutes before another penalty from Khalid Bawazir on 33 minutes made it 4-0 at half-time.

In the second half, Mohammad Al Hammadi’s diving header from a cross made it 5-0 on the hour.

The Whites topped Group D after the first round of fixtures with this victory after Uzbekistan could only beat Lebanon 3-1 in Saturday’s later game at the Tahnoun Bin Mohammad Stadium.

Despite this, Al Abdouli warned his players to brace themselves ahead of Monday’s second group game against Lebanon.

“We shouldn’t exaggerate this result because it wasn’t against one of the strongest sides,” he said.

“We won’t be flattered by the weather either,” he added, implying that the UAE were more accustomed to playing in the heat than Nepal. “We have to be realistic, the second game will be more difficult than the last.

“Lebanon will be the most important game and my players remain committed and serious about executing the plan.”

Only the top teams from 10 groups of four, and five to six best runners-up, will progress to the AFC Under-23 Championships in China from January 9 to 27 next year.

The discrepancy between there being five or six best runners-up stems from the fact that China, who have already qualified as hosts, are also taking part in qualification. If they top their group or finish among the best five runners-up, a sixth best runner-up will also qualify.

Uzbekistan coach Khaydarov Ravshan denied it was an open and shut case of Group D being just between the UAE and themselves after the first round of fixtures.

“Maybe you can say that, but we don’t think like that,” he said. “Now we are just thinking about our next game against Nepal.

“It won’t be easy because this is a tournament and Nepal will try to do their best against us. Each game is important to us, and we will treat every game as a cup final and try to concentrate on each one individually. For these next two games we will be very serious and focused.”

Lebanon coach Milic Curcic said: “We now have a very short time to prepare for the next game and we see that the UAE are almost at the same level as Uzbekistan. Our next match is sure to be a good one, so we will see, we will prepare and try to do our best. In football, you never know.”

Meanwhile, Nepal coach Raju Kaji Shakya said: “We have Uzbekistan next and they are also very strong, but we will try to play good football and fight. We made two mistakes on the penalties today and many wrong passes, but we will try to do better in the next match.”