Dubai: Goals in either half from Saif Rashid and Ali Salmeen saw the UAE beat Yemen 2-0 in their last official friendly ahead of January’s Asian Cup, hosted at Al Wasl’s Zabeel Stadium on Tuesday.
Ali Mabkhout was denied by the post early on, but Rashid made up for it on 20 minutes when he converted Esmail Al Hammadi’s cross for the opener.
Yemen’s Hussain Al Gazi forced a save from a distance after the half-hour, and Mohsin Mohammad skied his effort over the bar while through on goal after the hour.
A one-two between Mabkhout and Salmeen then put the latter through to slot home the UAE’s second on 66 minutes.
Alberto Zaccheroni’s side were meant to be playing Mohammad Salah’s Egypt in this game but the Pharaohs pulled out at the last minute citing cramped scheduling forcing the UAE to hastily arrange a replacement with less than a week’s notice.
It was the second time Egypt have cancelled a friendly with the UAE in the space of a year and it further set back the Whites’ preparations ahead of their January Asian Cup hosting, at a time when things couldn’t get much worse.
Star player Omar Abdul Rahman is already out of the January 5 to February 1 tournament after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while playing for club side Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia last month. The UAE have also floundered in their build-up matches winning just one of the last nine games under Zaccheroni coming into this game.
The UAE FA had to release a statement denying they were about to replace the Italian after the team’s 2-0 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago in Spain in September.
Although Zaccheroni remains, the fact former Chelsea and Romania defender Dan Petrescu was spotted in the stands was significant given his acquaintance with UAE FA chairman Marwan Bin Galita, with whom he was together as coach and chairman at Dubai side Al Nasr from October 2016 to May 2017.
Yemen maybe ranked 50 places behind the UAE — as opposed to the 23 positions the UAE are behind Egypt — but it was still a moderate test given that Yemen will make their Asian Cup debut in January alongside Iran, Iraq and Vietnam in Group D — while the UAE face Thailand, India and Bahrain in Group A.
The UAE finished runners-up to Saudi Arabia on the only other occasion they hosted the Asian Cup back in 1996. They also got their best result away from home in the last Asian Cup four years ago in Australia when they finished third, but whether that can now be replicated in January remains a serious doubt.