Zac­cheroni look­ing for UAE to seal top spot

The National - News - - SPORT - JOHN MCAULEY Con­tin­ued on page 33

UAE man­ager Al­berto Zac­cheroni con­ceded his side’s progress has been slow so far at the Asian Cup, but stressed the hosts are fo­cused solely on ad­vanc­ing to the knock­out stages as group win­ners by de­feat­ing Thai­land to­day.

The na­tional team go into the fi­nal round of Group A matches perched at the sum­mit, one point ahead of In­dia and Thai­land. The for­mer take on bot­tom side Bahrain at the same time in Shar­jah.

A draw against Thai­land at Al Ain’s Hazza bin Zayed Sta­dium would there­fore guar­an­tee the UAE a place in the last 16, while vic­tory would en­sure they se­cure top spot – and with it a sup­pos­edly eas­ier route into the tour­na­ment’s lat­ter stages.

The home side’s prospects are look­ing rather rosier fol­low­ing Thurs­day night’s hard-fought vic­tory against In­dia, when they scored at the end of each half to win 2-0.

The UAE had been held to a dis­ap­point­ing 1-1 draw by Bahrain in the Asian Cup opener on Jan­uary 5.

“First of all, we are so happy that we won the last match and nearly qual­i­fied the UAE team to the last 16,” Zac­cheroni said in Al Ain yes­ter­day. “But our fo­cus will be high on achiev­ing the top spot and qual­i­fy­ing with­out look­ing or con­sid­er­ing the re­sult of the other match.

“The de­vel­op­ment of our per­for­mance is slow, but our am­bi­tion is to play well and show our best per­for­mance. Our progress is grad­ual.

“After this stage we will play against stronger teams in a knock­out stage, but, for me, the play­ers are fully ready – not just the 11 play­ers, but in this com­pe­ti­tion we rely on 23 play­ers. In the last match the play­ers on the bench made the dif­fer­ence.

“In terms of per­for­mance, the team is pro­gress­ing. And I hope the per­for­mance will progress fur­ther and in the com­ing match you’ll see some­thing else.”

The UAE know Thai­land well hav­ing been drawn against them twice in qual­i­fy­ing for last sum­mer’s Fifa World Cup.

The na­tional team, man­aged at that time by Emi­rati Mahdi Ali and then Ar­gen­tine Edgardo Bauza, de­feated the South-East Asians 3-1 at the Mo­hammed bin Zayed Sta­dium in Oc­to­ber 2016 be­fore be­ing held to a 1-1 draw in Bangkok the fol­low­ing June.

Thai­land head into the

lat­est meet­ing still com­ing to terms with Milo­van Ra­je­vac’s dis­missal prompted by their shock 4-1 de­feat to In­dia in last week’s opener.

Sirisak Yod­yardthai has been placed in tem­po­rary charge, and opened his ten­ure by guid­ing his side to a nar­row 1-0 vic­tory against Bahrain on Thurs­day to keep alive their cam­paign.

“We are play­ing against a very de­vel­oped na­tional team with a dif­fer­ent style of play, who is com­pet­ing to win qual­i­fi­ca­tion to the last 16,” Zac­cheroni said. “We are play­ing in front of a huge crowd in a great sta­dium, and I hope the fans will at­tend in mas­sive num­bers to sup­port the play­ers and be be­hind them.

“For me, to­mor­row’s match won’t be easy. I spoke to the play­ers after the match, and dur­ing daily train­ing ses­sions, where I’m telling them that ev­ery match is im­por­tant.

“We need to per­form at our best level, bet­ter than our pre­vi­ous matches.”

Zac­cheroni, who led Ja­pan to the Asian Cup crown in 2011, has been crit­i­cised for the UAE’s in­abil­ity to find the net through­out his time in charge.

In the 20 matches since his ap­point­ment 15 months ago, the na­tional team have scored 13 goals, win­ning seven times.

How­ever, Zac­cheroni re­jected crit­i­cism that he sets up his team too de­fen­sively.

“I don’t agree with you that I adopted a com­pact, de­fen­sive style,” he said. “If you watched the last match you would have no­ticed that we were launch­ing at­tacks with seven or eight play­ers. The po­si­tion of pos­ses­sion was bet­ter than the op­po­nents in both the two matches so far.

“We are play­ing 4-3-3 with three in the front line be­cause the qual­ity and abil­ity of play­ers forced me to use this style. I use the tac­tics ac­cord­ing to the abil­ity and avail­abil­ity of the play­ers.

“The two matches we played were against teams with a com­pact de­fence and that was the big­gest is­sue for our team.

“The speed of the Asian teams is dif­fer­ent, and even in the UAE league they don’t have this el­e­ment, but I’m sure in this match we are pro­gress­ing and de­vel­op­ing more and more.”

Zac­cheroni is hop­ing Is­mail Ahmed will be fit to start after the de­fender suf­fered a head in­jury against In­dia. The 35-year-old Al Ain cen­tre-back is one of the most ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers in the squad.

Else­where, vet­eran for­ward Is­mail Matar should be avail­able again de­spite need­ing a pro­tec­tive mask to play fol­low­ing a cheek­bone frac­ture sus­tained while fea­tur­ing for club side Al Wahda in De­cem­ber.

Al­berto Zac­cheroni’s side beat In­dia in their last game

UAE FA

UAE play­ers train­ing in Al Ain yes­ter­day ahead of their Asian Cup clash with Thai­land

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