Lit­tle time to waste

Zac­cheroni gives youth its chance in penul­ti­mate camp be­fore Asian Cup

Sport360 - - International Football - By Matt Mon­aghan @mattmon­aghan360 ✉ mattmon­

Time is at a pre­mium now for UAE coach Al­berto Zac­cheroni af­ter his penul­ti­mate train­ing camp be­fore Jan­uary 2019’s Asian Cup be­gan in Dubai on Tues­day.

A 28-man squad was se­lected by the tour­na­ment hosts for the get to­gether at Nad Al Sheba, that also con­tains Novem­ber 16’s friendly with Bo­livia and Novem­ber 20’s gala meet­ing with Egypt.

It’s all on Mabkhout

Just one man is left stand­ing from the UAE’s ‘Big Three’.

Tears flowed last month when knee lig­a­ments were torn by su­per­star play­maker Omar Ab­dul­rah­man. He’ll be lucky to kick a ball

in 2018/19, never mind the Asian Cup.

Per­sis­tent fit­ness prob­lems at Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club have se­ri­ously im­pinged World Cup 2018 qual­i­fy­ing’s global joint-top scorer, Ahmed Khalil.

Al Jazira hot shot Ali Mabkhout is the only tal­is­man pre­sent. With nine goals in eight Ara­bian Gulf League games, he’s in de­cent form.

Case for the de­fence

The UAE’s tra­vails in at­tack are well known – since Zac­cheroni ar­rived in Oc­to­ber 2017, only eight goals have been scored dur­ing 15 matches.

At the other end of the pitch, things also aren’t look­ing rosy.

In seven matches since last win­ter’s Gulf Cup, clean sheets were only kept against min­nows Laos and An­dorra.

Vet­eran Is­mail Ahmed is creak­ing and young­ster Khal­ifa Mubarak re­quires work. A re­call for ver­sa­tile Shabab Al Ahli de­fender Walid Ab­bas of­fers a po­ten­tial cure.

Mak­ing the big step

A youth­ful edge is pre­sent in Zac­cheroni’s ros­ter. Al Nasr for­ward Mo­hamed Al Ak­bari is back in favour, while Jazira’s Khal­fan Mubarak must pull the strings in Amoory’s – lengthy – ab­sence. Pride of Abu Dhabi for­ward Ahmed Rabea and Al Dhafra loa­nee Saeed Jassem also get fresh chances.

Con­tin­ued re­ward for a 2018 Asian Games bronze has come for skip­per Ahmed Rashed, goal­keeper Mo­hamed Al Shamsi, Shar­jah mid­fielder Ma­jid Surour and Jazira prospect Zayed Al Ameri.

Of this sprightly co­hort, how­ever, only seven 2018/19 top-flight goals have been scored. Mubarak ac­counts for four of them.

Friends re­united: Mo­hamed Al Ak­bari (l) is back in the UAE squad, where he’s also meet­ing up with for­mer Al Wahda team-mate Is­mail Matar (r).

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