By Samindra Kunti in Abu Dhabi
January 5 – United Arab Emirates coach Alberto Zaccheroni (pictured centre) thinks that history can still repeat itself for the host nation after his team stumbled to a disappointing 1-1 draw in the curtain raiser of the 2019 Asian Cup. The Italian won the Asian Cup in 2011 after Japan were held in their first game by Jordan.
After the drawn-out qualification, the build-up and the final warm-up games, the United Arab Emirates kicked off the tournament on home soil against their local rivals, but the home nation didn’t reproduce any of the colour and vibrancy that had earmarked the preceding opening ceremony. In the final minutes of the game Ahmed Khalil, surprisingly left on the bench for the start, converted a spot kick to prevent a humiliating defeat for the hosts. Even though the UAE’s tournament got underway not with a bang, but with a whimper, the Italian boss maintained an optimistic view.
“When I was in charge of Japan, we ended with a draw in the first game of the 2011 Asian Cup against Jordan, then we won the tournament,” said Zaccheroni. “The same scenario played out today, as we went behind.”
During the 90 minutes too many of the UAE’s deficiencies surfaced again, notably a lack of creativity and scoring prowess. They struggled to break down the visiting defence and quickly ran out of ideas. Omar Abdulrahman remains a major absentee for the UAE, and Zaccheroni’s team will need to regroup for the remaining two group games.
“What is very important for me, is not only performances,” explained Zaccheroni. “The performance in the first half was aggressive and I thank them for fighting in the game. I told them what matters is to evolve gradually, from one game to the next. We will correct all the mistakes and look at the mistakes we made and learn lessons from them in the next game against India. Hopefully, the performances will get better and better. The team is different, with different potential and a style also. The UAE is prepared to face any qualified team in the Asian Cup.”
Miroslav Soukup, Bahrain’s Czech coach, was understandably a happy man after his team had earned a well-deserved point. The visitors had been underdogs going into the game, but following a few nervy moments in the opening minutes they settled down and asserted a measure of control over the game. Up front Mohamed Al Rohaimi caused the UAE problems with his movement and tenacity.
“Of course, we are happy because it was an open game,” said Soukup. “If someone told us before the game we’d play a draw, we’d be satisfied. Some people may think hard luck. But it was not – the UAE are a strong team, especially in the first half. From our side, in the second half our performance went up. Now in front of us, is two more difficult games.”
In their second group game Bahrain will face Thailand on January 10. That same day the hosts will meet India. If history is to repeat itself, they would win 2-1.
Contact the writer of this story Samindra Kunti at moc.l1563223417labto1563223417ofdlr1563223417owedi1563223417sni@o1563223417fni1563223417