Abu Dhabi (AFP) – Describing himself as a “blast from the past”, United Arab Emirates coach Alberto Zaccheroni warned Friday that the Asian Cup hosts could just surprise a few people this month.
The softly-spoken Italian, who previously led Japan to the continental crown, insisted his side would attack Gulf rivals Bahrain in Saturday’s opening game in Abu Dhabi, despite being robbed of mercurial playmaker Omar Abdulrahman through injury.
“I’ve been in this job for a little over a year and the goal was to achieve the best possible result at the Asian Cup,” Zaccheroni told reporters.
“We’ve had a couple of injuries but that shouldn’t be an obstacle. Our preparation has been spot on and we’re ready to get off to the best possible start tomorrow.”
Zaccheroni has form at the Asian Cup, steering the Blue Samurai to the title in 2011.
“That was already eight years ago — I’m starting to feel old,” smiled the 65-year-old, who has been around the block in a distinguished coaching career, winning a Serie A scudetto with AC Milan in 1999.
“What I will say is that you saw an improvement in Asian teams in terms of fitness and tactics at last year’s World Cup.
“I’m sure you will see further evidence of that at this Asian Cup,” added Zaccheroni, whose Emirates team are favourites to top Group A ahead of Bahrain, Thailand and cricket-mad India.
“A lot of the games will be very tight and winning or losing will comes down to small details.”
– ‘Football is an ocean’ –
The Emiratis were beaten finalists the last time the country hosted the Asian Cup in 1996, losing to Saudi Arabia in the final.
They reached the last four at the last edition in Australia four years ago after stunning holders Japan in the quarter-finals.
“Hopefully we can improve on that performance,” said veteran midfielder Ismail Matar, set to appear in his fourth Asian Cup.
“Football is a big ocean and there are no guarantees,” he added.
“We have to learn from the past and try not to repeat the same mistakes over and over.”
Local side Al Ain gave the national side a timely boost by reaching last month’s FIFA Club World Cup final against Real Madrid in Abu Dhabi.
But the smart money will be on South Korea, Iran or Japan to capture the continental title.
The absence of mop-top talisman Abdulrahman hurts the home side’s chances, but Matar is defiant.
“It’s up to us to go out and repay the trust and faith everyone have in us,” said the 35-year-old.
“We will leave everything on the pitch and see where it takes us.”
Bahrain coach Miroslav Soukup will hope star striker Yusuf Helal, newly signed by Czech leaders Slavia Praha, can help fire them to an upset win.
“I want my players to show hunger,” said the Czech. “We can lose of course, but I want my players to leave the pitch at the end with their heads held high.”
200+ Channels With Sports & News
- Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
- Watch Premier League, World Cup, Euro 2024 & more
- Includes NBC, USA, FOX, ESPN, CBSSN & more
Live & On Demand TV Streaming
- Price: $69.99/mo. for Entertainment package
- Watch World Cup, Euro 2024 & MLS
- Includes ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 + local channels
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
- Price: $6.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
- Features Bundesliga, LaLiga, Championship, & more
- Also includes daily ESPN FC news & highlights show
2,000+ soccer games per year
- Price: $4.99/mo
- Features Champions League, Serie A, Europa League & NWSL
- Includes CBS, Star Trek & CBS Sports HQ
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
- Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
- Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season
- Includes Premier League TV channel plus movies, TV shows & more
- Inzaghi conquers Inter Milan despite title disappointment
- Ivan Perisic’s Inter future in doubt after stunning season
- Fuelled by Premier League dynasty, Man City crave Champions League legacy
- Barcelona finish with defeat by Villarreal, Granada go down
- Man City win Premier League title after epic fightback
- AC Milan back on top after snatching title from Inter
- Rangnick relieved to secure Europa League spot for Man Utd
- Marsch hails Leeds players’ character after escaping the drop
- What are the groups for World Cup 2022?
- Vieira calls for ‘safety at work’ after pitch invasion incidents