UAE vs. Saudi Arabia friendly gives both chance to press reset button ahead of World Cup qualifiers

It may just be a friendly but Thursday's match could set the tone for both sides heading into their respective new eras. (AFP)
Updated 21 March 2019
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UAE vs. Saudi Arabia friendly gives both chance to press reset button ahead of World Cup qualifiers

  • New era for both the Whites and the Green Falcons after Asian Cup.
  • World Cup qualifiers start in September.

LONDON: That the UAE-Saudi Arabia clash today is a friendly is apt. With Bert van Marwijk now confirmed as the new UAE boss, and in the stands for the clash, the match will be a meeting of old mates.
The Dutchman memorably guided the Green Falcons to last year’s World Cup — their first appearance at the showpiece for 12 years — before contract talks stalled and he left. Now, 18 months on from his exit, Saudi Arabia are again looking for another manager following Juan Antonio Pizzi’s departure after the Asian Cup. And for both sides there is a distinct feeling of limbo.
The Asian Cup promised much for Pizzi’s players. Two comfortable opening wins over North Korea and Lebanon were followed up with defeats to eventual winners Qatar and a second round exit at the hands of Japan. It was the opposite of how their World Cup went. While the team got better with every match in Russia, at the Asian Cup the Green Falcons’ form petered out and utimately they exited with a whimper.
This match is the perfect chance for Salem Al-Dawsari and Co. to recover the form they showed in the latter half of Pizzi’s reign with the World Cup qualifiers set to start in September.
For the UAE there is the same sense of ennui, even with Van Marwijk set to become the new boss. Under Alberto Zaccheroni the Whites played a brand of football that would have challenged a sleeping tablet as a cure for insomnia. Too defensive, too risk averse, it was ultimately no surprise when the hosts failed to win the Asian Cup on home soil at the start of the year.
They may have reached the semifinals, but the UAE failed to inspire confidence, and this clash offers the chance of a fresh start on and off the pitch.
The UAE’s “Golden Generation” ultimately failed to achieve World Cup qualification or Asian Cup success when at least one of them seemed, at one point, like a sure thing. The next year or two will likely see that stable of players slowly ushered out. However, the chance of an early sighting of the young guns that will replace them has been kicked into touch due to the 2020 AFC U-23 Championship qualification commitments of the UAE’s young players. Friday’s Arabian Gulf Cup final also means that interim coach Saleem Abdelrahman will not be able to call on the Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club and Al-Wahda.
Both teams will not be at full strength tonight and it will be hard to read anything into the result. But this match offers up a great chance to press the reset button ahead of World Cup qualifying later this year.


Chelsea’s Abraham inspired by criticism

Updated 3 min 58 sec ago
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Chelsea’s Abraham inspired by criticism

  • Abraham’s brace fired Frank Lampard to his first Premier League victory as Chelsea manager
  • Loan spells at Bristol City, Swansea and Aston Villa helped Abraham hone his craft

LONDON: Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham admits he used criticism of his difficult start to the season to fuel his match-winning display at Norwich.
Abraham’s brace fired Frank Lampard to his first Premier League victory as Chelsea manager and erased some of the doubts about his misfiring strikers.
None of Chelsea’s forward had scored in the Premier League this term until Saturday when Abraham bagged his first goals for the club in the 3-2 win.
It was a special afternoon for Abraham, who is one of Chelsea’s prized homegrown assets.
Loan spells at Bristol City, Swansea and Aston Villa helped Abraham hone his craft, but when he missed his penalty in the European Super Cup shoot-out defeat against Liverpool, the 21-year-old was racially abused on social media.
It was a nasty experience for Abraham, who is aware of the doubters and is determined to silence them.
“I have always believed in myself,” Abraham told Chelsea’s official website.
“I know I have had a bit of a sticky time at the start of the season, but I’m someone who doesn’t let that affect me. It drives me on.
“Now I have scored two good goals and hopefully I can keep scoring for Chelsea.
“This is football at the end of the day. You just have to enjoy it as much as you can. It’s not a long career, so while you’re out there you just have to give your best and just enjoy it.”
Abraham opened the scoring with a fine finish on three minutes, with fellow youngster Mason Mount also hitting the back of the net in an entertaining first half which saw Norwich draw level twice through Todd Cantwell and Teemu Pukki.
After scoring his first goal Abraham, who settled the contest with a well-taken second-half strike, celebrated by embracing Lampard and paid tribute to his new boss.
“It’s always nice to have that support behind you, especially how he supports the young lads,” he added.
“He gives us confidence. When a coach believes in you, you just want to do your best and give 100 percent.”