UAE, India hope to fulfil potential

Dubai: Hosts UAE and crowd-pullers India are confident of fulfilling their potential at next year’s Asian Cup to be held on the UAE soil.

The UAE will join India, Bahrain and Thailand in Group A of the competition that is scheduled to kick off at the Zayed Sports City in the capital on January 5.

The hosts were drawn to take on neighbours Bahrain in their first match on the opening day, while India will clash with Thailand at the Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi on January 6.

UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni — who was in-charge as Japan helped themselves to a record fourth Asian Cup crown in Qatar seven years back — felt that his UAE squad will peak at the right time while playing on home turf this time. Zaccheroni took over from Mehdi Ali in the middle of January last year and his first slice of success came a year later when the UAE finished runners-up to Oman in the 23rd Gulf Cup in Kuwait.

“Winning the Asian Cup will not be an easy task. From my experience of 2011 in this tournament, I know that there is very little difference between teams. We [Japan] played Jordan and Syria and I can tell you that both games were not easy at all. Surely, I can use this good experience to our advantage while playing against such strong teams,” Zaccheroni told media after Friday’s draw at the Armani Hotel, Burj Khalifa.

The UAE hosted the continental competition 22 years back in 1996 when they ended runners-up to Saudi Arabia in a penalty shootout. One of the tasks assigned to the 65-year-old Italian when he was contracted in 2017 was to ensure success at the Asian Cup.

And Zaccheroni has been taking this competition quite seriously as well. “We have been planning for this tournament for the past few months now. From August we will have training camps for the UAE squad. We have lined up a couple of friendly matches before the Asian Games in Indonesia [in September]. All these steps are part of getting out team prepared for the Asian Cup,” the former AC Milan and Juventus manager related.

“However, the biggest problem for me normally is the numerous injuries to key players. We will prepare the UAE according to our needs and strengths and we will ensure we find our way through,” he added.

India coach Stephen Constantine expected his side to qualify to the knockout phase from Group A. “On our day we are a good team and can beat anyone. We are disciplined. We work hard and that has shown throughout the qualifiers that have gone on for more than two and a half years. That said, there will be no easy games. But I think India is where we should be,” Constantine told Gulf News.

“We need to be more consistent in such big competitions. We need to do this (qualify for the Asian Cup) on a regular basis for many, many years,” the 55-year-old Englishman added.

Asked to best describe the 97-ranked India, the Cyprus-based coach said: “It’s their never-say-die attitude. We are all there to fight till the end. In the past we have gone one goal down, two goals down and yet we have fought back. We are disciplined and the team is a close-knit unit,” he stressed.

India’s preparations towards the continental spectacle will commence with the 2018 Hero Intercontinental Cup featuring South Africa, New Zealand, Chinese Taipei and the hosts in Mumbai from June 1-10. “All these games will be difficult, but that’s part of the preparations. I have also spoken with Syria and Lebanon where we will try to arrange friendly games in the October-November window. And then we will have a camp, possibly in Qatar, in December before we land in the UAE,” Constantine disclosed.