Hopes run high for in-form UAE at Asian Cup
During a golden period for the Emirati side, they reached the last four in 1992 while going a step further in the next edition
The United Arab Emirates have made it past the group stages of the Asian Cup only twice in nine attempts but that should not be a concern this time around in Australia given the recent form of the close-knit group.
During a golden period for the Emirati side, they reached the last four in 1992 while going a step further in the next edition when they lost the final to Saudi Arabia in a shootout after a battling 0-0 draw on home soil.
However, things quickly nosedived as the UAE failed to qualify for the continental showpiece in 2000 and were ousted in the group stage of the subsequent three tournaments.
Mahdi Ali has made them more competitive and hungry for silverware, evident from the results the team have got since the former international midfielder took over in 2012.
Ali has built his current squad around the team that won the silver medal at the Asian Games in Guangzhou in 2010, many of whom also represented the UAE side at the Olympic Games in London in 2012 under him.
The positive results came thick and fast as the UAE went on to win the Gulf Cup title in 2013 and then qualified for the Asian Cup with five wins and a draw from six matches, albeit in a considerably weak group.
The UAE have been drawn in Group C in Australia and only have Iran ranked higher than them with Bahrain and Qatar as the other teams.
Ali has his sights set on a last four place in Australia.
"As I have said before, the ultimate target has always been getting to the World Cup in 2018 and our second target is to get to the last four in Australia," Ali said recently.
The team will also be boosted by the return to fitness of the country's finest player, Omar Abdulrahman.
The 23-year-old Al Ain playmaker injured his ankle in the UAE's Gulf Cup semi-final loss to Saudi Arabia last month but was included in the squad after showing enough signs of recovery.
The form of the skilful, shaggy-haired Abdulrahman, who impressed at the London Olympics and bagged the Player of the Tournament award in the 2013 Gulf Cup, will be crucial for the Emirati side's fortunes in Australia.
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