The 23 players chosen to carry the hopes of host nation, the UAE, are now known after coach Alberto Zaccheroni announced his Asian Cup squad.
After a mixed 14 months of experimentation and refinement, the ex-AC Milan and Japan – with whom he claimed the 2011 edition – supremo, unsurprisingly, sprung few surprises.
Here, Sport360 analyses his choices ahead of January 5’s pressurised opener against Bahrain at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City.
There is relief all around that 2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil has proved his fitness.
A solitary goal in eight Arabian Gulf League matches for Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club is nothing to shout about, but World Cup 2018’s global joint-top scorer in qualifying is a natural at international level.
Fellow forward Ali Makbhout has the reverse problem. It’s 15 strikes in 12 top-flight matches this term, but only two in his last eight caps – both coming against minnows Laos.
The UAE need both to be firing, even if just one starts.
Elsewhere, Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa was right to feel aggrieved that he wasn’t named in the top-three performers for the 2018 Club World Cup. Evergreen club-mate Ismail Ahmed must continue being a rock in front of him.
The drive for width has caused Saif Rashed, of unbeaten AGL leaders Sharjah, to go from late call-up in November, to Asian Cup squad member.
Once-exiled Al Ain midfielder Mohamed Abdulrahman is no longer persona non grata. He’ll be a useful utility option.
Veteran forward Ismail Matar’s recent reintegration was threatened by a fractured cheek. But he has been passed fit, allowing him, as he’s always done, to answer his nation’s call.
مقاتلو العين الأبطال يعودون إلى كتيبة الأبيض ..— UAE NT (@uaent2019) December 23, 2018
اعتماد القائمة النهائية للأبيض لكأس آسيا الإمارات 2019
التفاصيل 👇https://t.co/GSNDhjf9J9#منتخب_الإمارات #منصور_يالأبيض #كأس_آسيا2019 pic.twitter.com/wqFaifOSDv
ASSUMING THE CREATIVE MANTLE
October’s likely season-ending knee injury suffered by playmaker par excellence, Omar Abdulrahman, dealt a bitter blow to a nation that has now only won six of 17 fixtures under Zaccheroni.
The obvious creative replacement at No10 is Jazira’s Khalfan Mubarak. He leads the way in the AGL with 10 assists.
Zaccheroni has, however, appeared to change tact since the irreplaceable Amoory’s loss was confirmed. This is bad news for Mubarak.
With wingers en vogue in a 4-3-3 formation during November’s friendlies against Bolivia (0-0) and Yemen (2-0), Shabab Al Ahli speedster Ismail Al Hammadi will be key. Also watch out for flying Al Ain right-back Bandar Al Ahbabi.
Shabab Al Ahli centre-back Mohammed Marzooq was, until recently, a likely starter.
He’s now been cut from Zaccheroni’s preliminary roster.
Battler Tariq Ahmed was a key performer throughout 2017. His midfield drive has been deemed unnecessary.
Al Nasr team-mate Mohamed Al Akbari has paid the price for a paltry tally of one goal in seven top-flight games.
Khalid Essa, Bandar Al Ahbabi, Mohamed Ahmed, Ismail Ahmed, Amer Abdulrahman, Rayan Yaslam, Mohamed Abdulrahman (Al Ain); Ali Khaseif, Khalifa Al Hammadi, Fares Juma, Khalfan Mubarak, Ali Mabkhout (Al Jazira); Khalifa Mubarak, Mahmoud Khamis (Al Nasr); Walid Abbas, Majed Hassan, Ismail Al Hammadi, Ahmed Khalil (Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club); Saif Rashid (Sharjah); Mohamed Al Shamsi, Ismail Matar (Al Wahda); Ali Salmeen, Khamis Esmail (Al Wasl)
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