January 10 – Under pressure UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni (pictured) has described the game with India as a “make-or-break” Asian Cup encounter for the hosts. In the opposition dugout he faces a buoyant Indian coach in Stephen Constantine who has vowed that his team will play for all three points.
The UAE opened the tournament with a tepid 1-1 draw against local rivals Bahrain. Zaccheroni’s team had little to offer and the script of a celebratory opening ceremony followed by a win for party organisers rapidly turned into a face-saving operation with the UAE only equalising from the penalty spot to salvage a draw in the closing minutes of the match. It was great drama to open the competition but has left the hosts with no room to manoeuvre: the UAE must win.
Zaccheroni has brushed off speculation surrounding his own future though various media reports had linked Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic – currently vacationing in Dubai – with the UAE job. The UAE Football Association has denied that they were seeking to replace Zaccheroni, whose contract runs until the conclusion of the Asian Cup.
“As a coach I have more than 35 years’ experience – I don’t care about such stuff,” Zaccheroni said on Wednesday. “We know that we failed our fans and we apologise to them. We all hoped to win to satisfy the fans.
“But our focus now is on the game against India. I have enough experience. Yes, we know that in football we can hear a lot of things said outside of the pitch, like in Italy where they have three newspapers dedicated to football.
“The India team played a distinguished game in the first match,” said Zaccheroni. “They played against a strong team, but they scored very well. We had a meeting with the players after the game against Bahrain where we showed India’s strengths and weaknesses.”
This is the second time that the UAE has staged the Asian Cup. In 1996 they won the tournament on home soil, defeating Saudi Arabia in the final after a penalty shout-out. The 65-year-old coach acknowledged that the India game is vital to the UAE’s tournament prospects.
“Tomorrow’s game will be a make-or-break game,” the Italian said. “From my side, as a coach and the players, we will do our best to win. We know we will face difficulties, but I have full confidence in all the players.”
The Indians come into the game buoyed by their historic 4-1 drubbing of Thailand, their first Asian Cup win since 1964. Constantine, like Zaccheroni, had come into the tournament under pressure, but his team could be assured of qualification for the round of 16 with just a point against the UAE.
“We started with zero expectations. It’s fantastic that we have given so many people hope through football, that India can finally be among the elite, not by chance but because they deserve to be among them,” said Constantine, “Do we deserve to be here? Absolutely. We need to be here – not just every eight, 12 or 20 years. We have to qualify for the big events,” he said.
“We came to the Asian Cup to win and make India proud. We are not changing that approach tomorrow even though we are playing a really good team.”
In the build-up to the tournament India warmed up against Jordan and Oman, choices Constantine has hailed as the right ones. “Oman are the Gulf Cup champions, so drawing with them was an encouraging result. We lost 2-1 in Jordan with half a team. [With] Jordan and Oman, the similarities with UAE are there, which is why we had those games,” he said.
“We have planned everything down to the last detail. We have a tough game against UAE but we will fight till the end and get the result we need.”
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1634714478labto1634714478ofdlr1634714478owedi1634714478sni@o1634714478fni1634714478