Step up in class for UAE as preparations continue against youthful Norway

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Rise to the challenge: Mahdi Ali.

The UAE’s preparations for their upcoming Gulf Cup and Asian Cup challenges begin in earnest tonight, as their European tour kicks up a gear against Norway (kick-off: 20:30, UAE time).

The Whites have travelled to Sta­vanger’s Viking Stadion from their Austrian base for the first of a trio of international friendlies. Mahdi Ali and his squad have been laying the foundations for the winter compe­titions since joining up for a three-week training camp on August 13, already featuring a 2-1 friendly defeat to Serie A side Udinese last Thursday in Linz.

Their task against the Norwe­gians – who are 12 places higher at 53rd in the FIFA rankings – has been made tougher by the absence of six Al Ain stars, due to their AFC Champions League quarter-final triumph against Al Ittihad. Recalled veteran forward Ismail Matar also misses out with a knee problem.

Key midfielder Amer Abdulrah­man should start after recovering from a serious knee injury that kept him sidelined for 10 months, with Bani Yas team-mate Ahmed Ali set to feature in an official international game for the first time since the 2012 Olympics.

Coach Ali will name a much-changed defence, as Hamdan Al Kamali has been left at home and Ismail Ahmed and Mohammed Ahmad are away with the Boss.

Senior national team manager Mutrif Al Shamsi hailed the ben­efit of facing higher-ranked opposi­tion ahead of November’s Gulf Cup defence and the January trip to Australia for the Asian Cup.

“The players need to play against top European sides like Norway, which will be of great help for their efforts to gain wider experience,” he said.

“The technical staff has been working on the weak points which have been revealed by the warm up against Udinese and enhanced the positive ones, with the expected return of the injured players.”

The UAE, who surrendered their 20-match unbeaten run during an eventful 4-3 loss to Armenia three months ago, face a domestically-based Norway squad, with hotly-tipped attacking midfielder Martin Odegaard set to become the young­est player to represent his country aged just 15 years and 253 days.

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