The big winner when Al Ain face Argentina heavyweights River Plate in the Club World Cup semi-finals could be sat in the stands.
UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni is unlikely to pass up the opportunity on Tuesday to scout, roughly, a third of his Asian Cup squad in action.
With the eyes of the globe transfixed on Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, hearts of a nation behind the Boss and the pressure amplified on home soil for, arguably, the biggest game in the storied history of the UAE’s most-successful club, you couldn’t wish for a better warm-up to next month’s continental festivities.
Veteran UAE centre-back Ismail Ahmed was dominant in the emphatic 3-0 quarter-final thrashing of Tunisia’s Esperance, only a few days since he was part of a porous backline that conceded three against New Zealand amateurs Team Wellington.
Playmaker Rayan Yaslam showed no ill-effect from a nagging knee problem upon his return to the starting XI versus Esperance. A pair of fine assists followed for the chosen successor to crocked superstar – and mentor – Omar Abdulrahman.
Versatile defender Mohamed Ahmed’s header against the North Africans was the quickest in CWC history, while ceaseless right-back Bandar Al Ahbabi was outstanding. Goalkeeper Khalid Essa pulled off the decisive save in the penalty shootout against Team Welly and Ahmed Barman has started both matches in defensive midfield.
Centre midfielder Amer Abdulrahman has impressed off the substitutes’ bench and defender Mohammed Fayez has proven his fitness after a debilitating knee injury.
All are gaining invaluable experience, ahead of January 5’s big kick-off against Bahrain at Zayed Sports City. All are showing Zaccheroni exactly what they are made of.
The Italian supremo’s defining test in the Whites hot seat began in earnest this weekend when a preliminary 26-strong roster was selected for the final training camp. Al Ain’s sizeable contingent will join up shortly after Saturday’s finals day – be that following a third-placed play-off or likely glamour decider against Real Madrid’s aristocrats.
Then, comes the big cull on December 26 and submission of the final 23-man selection.
A battle-hardened Boss cohort will be major figures in any UAE success.
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