UAE face the toughest test of their three-week European tour as they wind up with a friendly against Paraguay tonight in Austria.
Mahdi Ali’s men have drawn the two previous internationals against Norway and Lithuania, with the South Americans providing imposing final opposition before the squad head back home tomorrow ahead of next week’s Arabian Gulf League kick off.
The fixture marks the first time the teams have met, with Los Guaranies last facing an Asian Football Confederation nation in 2010 when they thrashed Hong Kong 7-0.
The Whites will have to contend with a number of star names. Captain Roque Santa Cruz is set to win his 100th cap and will lead the charge up front in the absence of seriously injured ex-Al Jazira striker Nelson Valdez, with a mostly inexperienced squad in support.
The UAE have failed to impress thus far during their preparations for November’s Gulf Cup defence and January’s trip to Australia for the Asian Cup. Despite the absence of eye-catching results, centre-back Ismail Ahmed insisted the players are learning important lessons for the future.
He said: “We came out with many gains, like experience and expertise of friction. The future will be better and the most important characteristic of our team is the full readiness of all players.”
Coach Mahdi Ali ran his squad through a workout yesterday at the Linzer Stadion, with everyone reporting for duty except veteran forward Ismail Matar who has been receiving intensive treatment after suffering a knee problem which is expected to sideline him for at least another week.
The main focus in Linz was on the style of play against a strong Latin American side. Ali then spoke to the players at their hotel while showing television footage of Paraguay’s previous appearances.
The UAE made five changes for Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Lithuania, a game in which Al Ahli full-back Abdulaziz Sanqour struck an injury-time leveller to prevent a dispiriting defeat to opposition ranked 38 places below them at 103rd in the FIFA rankings.
Ali will need a much-improved display against a Paraguayan team in transition after failing to make the World Cup this summer for the first time since 1994. Coach Victor Genes is assembling a fresh pool with a view to the qualifiers after the 2015 Copa America.
Roma’s Antonio Sanabria, Cerro Porteno’s Oscar Romero and Basel’s Derlis Gonzalez provide a youthful threat behind lone centre forward Santa Cruz. Former Emirates Club loanee Nestor Ortigoza has been recalled, and is expected to start alongside vice-captain Victor Caceres in defensive midfield.
The UAE squad gathers again during the first week of October to play Australia and Uzbekistan on October 10 and 14 respectively at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
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