Knockout stage beckons as UAE face Thailand
The UAE's Ali Mabkhout attends a training session.
Abu Dhabi - Monday's double header is a do-or-die battle for all four teams in Group A.
By Ashwani Kumar
Published: Tue 15 Jan 2019, 8:59 PM
The UAE aim to win the coveted AFC Asian Cup 2019 title at home. It is a seven-match hurdle and the hosts have taken two strides with mixed success. A drab 1-1 draw against Bahrain was followed by a remarkable 2-0 victory over India resulting in the 'Whites' occupying top slot of Group A.
Now the UAE face Thailand, who after humiliated by India 1-4 but came back brilliantly to prevail over Bahrain.
The dynamics of the group table is such that even Bahrain with a point from two matches can still qualify. The permutations and combinations of Group A present every team an equal opportunity to qualify to the knockout stage. This is very much against the trend seen in other groups where the top two teams have been identified.
The competition is intense and Monday's 8 pm double header is a do-or-die battle for all four teams as the UAE face Thailand in Al Ain and India take on Bahrain in Sharjah.
The UAE stuttered against the Indians but the defenders held resolutely. The back four will have to repeat their act when they face threatening Chanathip Songkrasin and Co. The attacking winger is a big match player as he showed against Bahrain and the AFF Championship.
With the focus entirely on the UAE defenders, Ismail Ahmad is confident that the team will be united in their efforts as they strive to continue their winning run.
"We are a united house. Our morale is high. We are No. 1 in the group which is great but we haven't qualified. We are proud of our journey so far but understand that we need to put more effort."
The Al Ain defender noted that Thai 'War Elephants' were a combative unit and the UAE needed to tread carefully.
"Teams from Southeast Asia have shown strong play so far. We know Thailand pose a real threat. We have to be focused till the end," Ismail said.
Defender Mohamed Ahmed tool felt the backline has to play with full concentration and avoid any regretful mistakes.
"Our attackers succeeded in exploiting opportunities against India. I hope they continue their run."
He is confident keeper Khalid Eisa will be able to keep another clean sheet.
"I raise my hat to our goalkeeper. Khalid has performed exceptionally well in all matches," Mohamed said.
Defender Hassan Saleh said the match will be difficult as Thailand stand a real chance to qualify.
"They will come hard at us. We have to make extra effort to ensure positive result. We will not underestimate them and fight till the end."
Khalifa Mubarak said the 'Whites' will make go for win despite knowing a draw will be enough.
"We don't want to wait for the outcome of India-Bahrain match, which is taking place at the same time. Our aim is simple - three points."
All the players hope that fans will rally behind them at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Monday.
Meanwhile, Thailand after sacking coach Milovan Rajevac are managed by Sirisak Yodyardthai who felt the win over Bahrain has eased pressure on everyone. However, they remain wary about the threat posed by likes of Ali Mabkhout and Ismail Al Hammadi.
"The UAE attackers have pace but we are ready. Our players have hunger to qualify."
Captain Teerasil Dangda said the team spirit was good.
"We have self-belief and hope to reach next round," he added.