AFC Asian Cup 2019: What you need to know before UAE v India
After tackling a comparatively weaker and ‘standing on the same page’ Thailand team, the Indians will be up against the mighty United Arab Emirates on 10th January at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi in their next game at the AFC Asian Cup 2019. For obvious reasons, both the Federation and the Indian fans have agreed that this is going to be their team’s toughest group game in the tournament.
Back in 2012, UAE’s ranking was 138. But since then, they have made a massive comeback and are now ranked 79th by FIFA. The team, which played its first match back in 1972, has even participated in the FIFA World Cup. The White Jerseys qualified for the 1990 FIFA World Cup but lost all of its three games against Yugoslavia, Colombia and eventual champions West Germany. Their best AFC Asian Cup performance came six years later, where they suffered a defeat against Saudi Arabia in the final. That game was settled by penalties. They are also two-time winners of the Arabian Gulf Cup, the last time being in 2013 when they defeated a strong Iraq team in the final.
UAE is managed by the legendary Italian manager Alberto Zaccheroni. Zaccheroni has managed famous Italian sides like AC Milan, Internazionale and Juventus, and also national teams like Japan. He has been in charge of the Asian giants since 2017. The Italian manager usually plays a classic 4-4-2 formation.
UAE’s form hasn’t been very impressive, but don’t be fooled, for they faced some quality sides recently. While they have only secured one win in their last five games, but they have drawn against strong sides like Honduras and Bolivia. Earlier this year, they defeated Iraq and Laos.
Three players to watch out for
UAE is pretty solid at the back, and the majority of the credit should be given to their trusted defender Walid Abbas. The 33-year-old from Shabab Al Ahli Dubai has played 63 games for his nation. Besides defending, he has also scored 5 goals, one of them coming against Bahrain, a side he’ll face again in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
In charge of their four-man midfield is another experienced campaigner in Ismail Al Hammadi. Al Hammadi is on the verge of earning 100 caps for his nation and has scored 14 times for them, one famous goal being the equalizer against Japan. Al Hammadi has already scored against India when the two sides met in 2011 and would be eager to do the same on 10th January.
While UAE’s captain Ismail Matar is a reliable striker, their hopes will predominantly be on Ali Mabkhout, the 28-year-old striker. Mabkhout, who has spent over ten seasons at Al-Jazira SSC, has scored 44 goals for his nation, 8 more than Matar while playing only 65 games, 60 less than Matar’s tally of 125 games. Mabkhout has already found the back of the net against world-class sides like Japan and Iceland and will now want to add India to his victim list.
Ali Kashif is an experienced option in goal, but Al-Ain FC’s Khalid Eisa is likely to get the gloves. Led by Walid Abbas, the backline will be formed by Fares Juma Al Saadi, Khamis Esmaeel and Ismail Ahmed. The expected four men who will be in charge of their midfield are Saif Rashid, Ismail Al Hammadi, Bandar Al-Ahbabi and Majed Hassan, while experienced backups are also available in the form of Amer Abdulrahman and Mohamed Abdulrahman. Eyes must be kept on Rashid, the 24-year-old who has performed well recently.
The two men in charge of their attack will be Ismail Matar, the 35-year-old veteran leader, and Ali Mabkhout, the prolific goal-getter. They also have a great alternative in Ahmed Khalil, the 27-year-old who is just a goal away from scoring 50 international goals.
Head-to-head record against India
As expected, India’s record against UAE is not something Indians will be proud of. In 13 encounters between the two sides, UAE has emerged as winners on eight occasions, while the match ended as a draw three times. The first time India got better of UAE was in 1981, where the Blues registered a 2-0 victory over UAE in the Merdeka Tournament in Kuala Lumpur. Iraq went on to lift the trophy. The only other time India defeated UAE was in 2001, in the Asian qualifiers for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Jules Alberto Dias, the former midfielder from Goa, scored the only goal in that match.
It will take an immensely optimistic person to predict a win for India, while any Indian football fanatic with moderate optimism might predict a draw. Embracing a pragmatic and practical view, I will predict a defeat for Stephen Constantine’s men. However, let us hope that even if they can’t cross the UAE hurdle, they put up great performances against Bahrain and Thailand to secure a place in the next round.