After a hard fought contest against the Kyrgyz Republic and more importantly winning over the crowd who were skeptical about the squad’s performance till the Round of 16 win, the hosts will be looking to feed off the momentum gained. Next up on their potential path to the Finals are Asian Cup title holders and strong contenders themselves – Australia.
Their opponents, have had a rough time navigating throughout their matches in the tournament as well. After a surprising loss to Jordan in the opener of their Group, the Socceroos breezed through Palestine while exhibiting grit and determination to outmaneuver Syria in extra time. And just like how UAE had to wait till the extra time to seal the game, the Australians had to rely on keeper Mathew Ryan to come up strong in the penalties against Uzbekistan.
Here is what you need to know prior to the kick-off.
Since 2011, the two have faced each other on 5 different occasions. The Abyad’s have never beaten the Aussies drawing twice. Furthermore, Australians can rely on the fact knowing that three members of the current line-up were able to notch a goal each against the Emiratis (Jackson Irvine and Mathew Leckie in the World Cup Qualifier in 2017, Trent Sainsbury netted one in a similar setting in the 2015 Asian Cup).
Australia’s performance in the Asian Cup:
Scott McIntyre, an Asian football reporter who has covered the game right across the continent for more than a decade, reporting from more than 40 of the AFC's 47 nations who is also the co-host of the Asian Game Podcast, provides his brief on how Australia has performed in the tournament so far.
“It's fair to say that Australia, like in my opinion, every nation at the tournament has not yet fully shown what they are capable of but they did well to bounce back from an opening loss to Jordan and they maintain their composure against the Uzbeks in the shootout win. It wouldn't surprise me if most matches pushed to extra time from here but this match with the UAE is one that the team should expect to win if they play to their capabilities,” said Mr. McIntyre.
One’s to watch:
Australia, according to Mr. McIntyre: “Mark Milligan - Not so much an unknown name but a crucial, yet unheralded, part of the side. He's the best passer of the ball in the team, able to slot between CB and DM/CM and is the link between both attack and defense. Naturally, as the captain he is also the leader on the pitch and possesses a fine tactical reading of the game.”
UAE: Age is no barrier for the most capped Emirati in the squad. Ismael Matar revealed the need of experience in manning the offense against Kyrgyzstan. While many questioned his inclusion, the Wahdawi was able to not only interlink with Mabkhout upfront but also have dictate plays involving the younger more agile Khalfan Mubarak. While, Matar may evidently not last the entire 90 minutes, his ability to control the offense could prove vital.
Mohammed Ahmed, an Emirati football expert who can be found on twitter @action_news, shared a similar sentiment on Matar’s performance.
“Ismael Matar on my opinion he was the best player against Kyrgyzstan, really he played like a young player was given an opportunity to show his ability. Massive respect to him,” said Mr. Ahmed.
Perspective on how Australia will approach this match:
“Under the newish coach Australia have proven to be a tough side to break down and are generally defensively sound. Against nations that are not as well-structured defensively (and I include the UAE in that) they have been able to show some impressive attacking passages of play and whilst that hasn't totally clicked here they have a solid midfield base and pace and trickery out wide which is where they cause a lot of their most dangerous moments. There has been some talk of a possible formation shift (perhaps to using two strikers) with star attacking midfielder Tom Rogic suspended and that could be a possible way to cover his absence here,” explains Mr. McIntyre.
“As they said this match is an open book game for both teams and I think Zaccheroni is waiting for a match like this. With all due to respect to all teams who have faced the UAE, we are better than them on the paper except Australia so the Italian fox will be looking to set a perfect formation and tactics,” according to Mr. Ahmed.
To put this into perspective, both teams will enter the match with a certain ambiguity in terms of style of play that will be featured in Al-Ain. This will be a true test for the Emiratis as the nation has had a decent run of games against ‘less impactful nations’ to reach the Quarterfinals. However, by no means would I suggest that the matches were an easy fix given the way it had turned out.
UAE has struggled to structure their defense, get the goals, and finish off the games but more importantly the squad has failed to show any signs of what could be its potential. They were fortunate enough to get past Kyrgyzstan in the previous round thanks to some help from the crossbars and an extra time penalty from a super sub – Ahmad Khalil. Australia might not be as gratuitous to the UAE as their predecessors in the tournament.