Asian Cup: UAE determined to make strong start when they face Hong Kong in opener

Coach Paulo Bento’s squad are looking to win the tournament for the first time in history having reached the final in 1996

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UAE forward Ali Mabkhout is still a central figure in the squad. - AFP
UAE forward Ali Mabkhout is still a central figure in the squad. - AFP

Published: Sat 13 Jan 2024, 5:12 PM

Last updated: Sat 13 Jan 2024, 9:27 PM

It’s been close to two decades since the UAE reached the AFC Asian Cup final for the first and only time but a new-look Sons of Zayed squad are determined to make history at this year’s tournament.

UAE open their campaign against Hong Kong at the Khalifa International Stadium in Al Rayyan on Sunday afternoon in Group C which also features Iran and Palestine, who will also be in action on Sunday at the Education City Stadium.

UAE lost 4-2 on penalties in the 1996 final against Saudi Arabia at the Zayed International Stadium in Abu Dhabi

Al Jazira’s talismanic 33-year-old striker Ali Mabkhout will be looking to deliver a stand-out performance as the country's all-time leading scorer with 85 goals in 115 matches, including five at the 2015 Asian Cup, which earned him the Golden Boot.

History also favours the UAE who won their Asian qualifying playoffs against Hong Kong in 2015, winning both their home and away matches by a broad margin over four goals to nil.

UAE's head coach Paulo Bento at the press conference today. — Picture courtesy UAEFA
UAE's head coach Paulo Bento at the press conference today. — Picture courtesy UAEFA

The UAE are coached by Paulo Bento, a former Portugal international, who assumed the role of head coach for the national team in July 2023.

Bento succeeded in rallying The Whites following their disappointing group stage exit at the 2022 Gulf Cup and strung together a six-game winning streak before they lost 1-0 to Oman in a friendly warm-up match last week,

Hong Kong is playing their first Asian Cup match in 55 years and their coach admits that the "gap is very big" to the continent's footballing elite.

The team from the southern Chinese city are the lowest ranked in Qatar and Jorn Andersen said it would be a learning experience, starting with an opener against the UAE.

"We cannot go in with too much or too high expectations," the Norwegian said Saturday. "We are here... to take experience, to learn and to try to do our best.

"We play against teams in the groups that are miles -- more than 50 places or more -- better than us in the FIFA rankings."

"I think the gap is very big with these teams," Andersen said. "But football is football. We have to play the matches first, then we can see what we can do against them."

Goalkeeper and national team stalwart Yapp Hung-fai echoed his coach's measured approach.

"We are here to enjoy the competition and try our best to show our good performances," said the team's all-time appearance record-holder.

"And we will hopefully get some good performances and good results."

Sunday's fixtures

GROUP C

UAE vs Hong Kong (6.30 pm UAE)

Iran vs Palestine (9:30 pm UAE)

GROUP D

Japan vs Vietnam (3:30 pm UAE)

- with inputs from AFP


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