Salem: UAE will em­brace Asian Cup pressure

The National - News - - SPORT FOOTBALL - JOHN MCAULEY

UAE de­fender Mo­hanad Salem says the na­tional team can han­dle the pressure that comes with be­ing 2019 Asian Cup hosts, as they set sights on cap­tur­ing the crown for the first time.

The UAE, cur­rently the eighth-ranked side in Asia, wel­come the ex­panded 24team tour­na­ment to the Emi­rates in Jan­uary for only the sec­ond time in the coun­try’s his­tory.

Drawn in Group A, Al­berto Zac­cheroni’s men kick off the event against Bahrain on Jan­uary 5 at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Sta­dium. They then take on Thai­land and In­dia as they seek to reach a first fi­nal since 1996, the only other time the Asian Cup was staged in the UAE.

The show­piece will take place at Zayed Sports City on Fe­bru­ary 1.

How­ever, the UAE must im­prove sig­nif­i­cantly if they are to bet­ter the bronze medal they claimed at the most re­cent Asian Cup, al­most four years ago. The na­tional team have won only one of their past eight matches, with the squad to meet again next month for a se­ries of friendlies, one of which will be against Egypt on Novem­ber 20.

Salem, a mem­ber of the 2015 team that fin­ished third in Aus­tralia, acknowledges the UAE must cope with the strain that comes with be­ing the home side when the Asian Cup gets un­der way in lit­tle more than two months’ time. “Ob­vi­ously, be­cause we’re the host team we have so much pressure and the sup­port­ers are the first to give us pressure be­fore the me­dia,” the Al Ain cen­tre-back said. “We un­der­stand that, we are pre­par­ing for that, and are train­ing very hard in or­der to achieve the best re­sults.

“All we can do is fo­cus on the train­ing and the games to cope with our own pressure and not think about the ex­ter­nal pres­sures. We can do it.”

The Asian Cup is be­ing been billed as the big­gest sports event to have been held in the UAE. Com­pris­ing 24 teams – the 2015 tour­na­ment had 16 – it will fea­ture 51 matches across eight venues in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain and Shar­jah.

“The tour­na­ment is very im­por­tant for the UAE,” Salem said. “The UAE al­ways aims to be the first for ev­ery­thing and now we’re host­ing this tour­na­ment, so clearly we are try­ing to be the best host.

“Also for the na­tional team: we’ll do our best to get the best re­sults. And that would be to win the tour­na­ment.”

Asked if he be­lieved the UAE could go one step fur­ther than the run­ner-up spot in 1996, Salem said: “Yes, it’s pos­si­ble for the na­tional team to win. Through ded­i­ca­tion and de­ter­mi­na­tion we can reach that.

“But, to win this tour­na­ment, first we need to pre­pare very well. We need to give 200 per cent of our ef­forts if we are to be able to take the ti­tle.”

Chris Whiteoak / The Na­tional

Mo­hanad Salem joined school chil­dren last week and took part in ac­tiv­i­ties to pro­mote the Asian Cup

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