The United Arab Emirates are no strangers to the pressure of being present in the semifinals of an Asian Cup. They have been there twice with the most recent being in the previous edition wherein they were knocked out by the hosts and eventual Cup holders themselves – Australia. However, defeating the Australians in the quarterfinals has certainly boosted the morale within the national camp having gone through a rough patch in their path till then.
Here is what you need to know prior to the kick-off.
Since 2001, the hosts have had the upper hand against their Qatari opposition winning on five different occasions with two loses and a tie in the eight they had played against each other.
The Abyad’s enter the match with the comfort knowing that their star striker Ali Mabkhout had always been in good scoring form against Qatar having netted thrice in two matches while their super-sub striker Ahmad Khalil had also netted thrice in two matches.
Qatar’s performance in the Asian Cup:
Ahmed Hashim, a football writer based in Qatar who has followed the domestic scene and the national team for almost 15 years, provides his brief on how Qatar has performed in the tournament so far.
“So far, Qatar has performed really well. Personally, I think the team has exceeded expectations and any achievement from now is a huge bonus. The start was indeed a little jittery, with Lebanon giving Qatar a tough fight. That match could have turned out differently had Lebanon's goal been allowed. I'd say Qatar were lucky to get through that with three points. DPR Korea was another experience altogether with Qatar going in all guns blazing, as if they were trying to prove a point. The team ticked all boxes in that game and then went on to give an even better account of themselves in the game against Saudi Arabia, when they showed exceptional maturity and awareness to get that 2-0 result.
The round of 16 win over Iraq was an exhausting game, but once again, it showed the remarkable progress of Qatar's players under Sanchez and yet another fine free-kick from Al-Rawi. The fallout from that game was bad, with the pressure on the Iraqi-born star, however, the team recovered brilliantly to knock out Korea Republic, who I think were favorites alongside Iran to take the title. The best thing so far has been the rock-solid defense led by the 22-year old Al-Rawi and 21-year old Tarek Salman, and the equally brilliant keeper behind them - Saad Al-Sheeb - who have not let in a single goal.”
One’s to watch:Embed from Getty Images
Qatar, according to Mr. Hashim: “Assim Madibo's return from suspension is a welcome news for Sanchez and in my opinion, he will be a player to watch. He will have a crucial role in breaking up UAE's play in midfield and cutting off service to Ali Mabkhout.”
UAE: As mentioned in the preview against Australia, Ismael Matar could again be influential given his ability to connect with Mabkhout and find either wingers on the run. His ability to deliver dangerous balls into the box from set piece situations will be of significance against the Qataris.
Perspective on how Qatar will approach this match:
“I think Qatar will start on the front foot and will be feeling really confident after the huge and historic win over Korea Republic. Tournament’s top scorer Almoez Ali will be raring to get back on the scoresheet after drawing a blank twice in a row and I believe this represents a great chance to score again.
Obviously, Qatar is going to be hit by the absence of their last two match-winners - Bassam Al Rawi (CB) and Abdulaziz Hatem (CM) - due to suspension. But this is a squad with quite some depth and we could see Sanchez continuing with his preferred system, without altering the core of his team. My prediction is that right back Pedro could move into CB, with Hamid Ismail taking his place on the flank,” explains Mr. Hashim.
“The scenario is the same as was in the case of Al-Ain in the FIFA CWC. Nobody expected them to reach past to the semifinals but they did. The opponent being Qatar, is on the same level as us so we have to win. The crowd will make the difference in the match and it’s important to score first against the best defending squad in the competition,” according to Mohammed Ahmed, an Emirati football expert who can be found on twitter @action_news.
For the first time in the current edition of the tournament, the United Arab Emirates have been pegged with a team of similar characteristics across all parts of the pitch. It will come down to who shows more desire and hunger to reach the Finals.
While in the past, it had been iterated that the hosts had struggled with their defense, the Quaterfinal win against the Aussies exhibited a different side of the back four not really accustomed to the Emirati fans. For once, the defense looked rock solid breaking up all plays coming through the ground while dealing with all aerial threats from a physically dominant Australian side.
We will have to wait and watch as to what aspect of the Emirati side will be on display come Tuesday night at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.