UAE's Mahdi Ali prepares for Saudi Arabia 'final mission'
A 'final mission' of immensely challenging nature awaits the UAE on Tuesday as they bid to keep their 2018 Fifa World Cup qualification hopes alive, coach Mahdi Ali said on Thursday.
The UAE beat a plucky but limited Palestine 2-0 at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium in their penultimate Asian zone Group A encounter in Abu Dhabi to stay on course to progress to the final qualification round as one of the four best pool runnersup.
While pleased with the vital victory, however, Ali lamented the fact that he will be without key men for Tuesday's final group game against leaders Saudi Arabia, who hosted Malaysia later on Thursday evening.
Totemic striker Ali Mabkhout is struggling to be fit for the crunch clash after injuring his hamstring in action for his club side Al Jazira last week, causing the 33-goal man to miss Thursday's match.
Ali will also be deprived of the services of midfielders Esmail Al Hammadi, who scored the first goal against Palestine, Majid Hassan and Habib Fardan, after they picked up a second booking of the campaign.
"This is a challenge," Ali said. "Will I bring in other players? Yes, of course, I am thinking about it. But now is not the time to discuss it as we have to focus on Saudi Arabia, which is like a final mission, from tomorrow."
The UAE may not have matched the pre-match passion and vigour of Ali, who implored his men to "play their hearts out" on Wednesday, but will cherish all three points.
Al Hammadi (32) and Ahmad Khalil's (60) exquisite goals illuminated a wretched game, in which the Whites were strangely listless.
Bani Yas' Ahmad Ali replaced Mabkhout up front alongside the 2015 AFC Asian player of the year Khalil, but the UAE badly missed their 33-goal talisman.