Mind games ahead of today’s semi-final between UAE and Qatar
UAE coach Zaccheroni plays down his team's chances against 'favourites' Qatar
United Arab Emirates coach Alberto Zaccheroni indulged in some mind games yesterday before the Asian Cup semi-finals, suggesting opponents Qatar were favourites to win.
The Italian, who steered Japan to a record fourth title in 2011, sought to take the pressure off his players before tonight's politically charged clash in Abu Dhabi by highlighting the strengths of World Cup 2022 hosts Qatar.
|QATAR||UNITED ARAB EMIRATES|
"They are an outstanding side who haven't conceded a goal yet in this tournament," said Zaccheroni, whose team stunned holders Australia 1-0 in the quarter-finals.
"Their results even before the Asian Cup were excellent. They are solid in all departments but they have some dangerous individuals too.
"They've been together for many years," noted the former AC Milan and Lazio boss before a game that will be bristling with regional tensions over the long-running Gulf blockade of Qatar.
"That stability is a source of great strength for them."
Japan, who beat Iran 3-0 in yesterday's other semi-final, await in Friday's final.
The Emiratis reached the final the last time they hosted the Asian Cup in 1996 and reached the last four in Australia four years ago.
Zaccheroni promised his side had extra incentive to go one better than in 2015, with key players Khalifa Mubarak and Mohamed Ahmed ruled out of the semi-final through injury and set to undergo surgery.
"The players who are fit are highly motivated and all aware of the importance of this game. We have faced our difficulties in this tournament in the group stage and in the last 16," said Zaccheroni, whose side benefited from controversial late penalties against Bahrain in their opening game and Kyrgyzstan in the knockout phase.
However, the UAE have failed to set the world on fire and fans have hardly been flocking to see them, with swathes of empty seats visible at their matches.
Qatar's run to their first Asian Cup semi-final is all the more remarkable given the animosity towards them from the fans.
But Portugal-born defender Pedro Miguel welcomed the pressure of being fancied after Qatar shocked co-favourites South Korea 1-0 in the quarter-finals.
"We want to be the favourites," he said. "All the players have the confidence to win this games. It's important for the players, the staff and all of Qatar." - AFP