By Stephen Constantine, May 14 2018 06:22AM
We now know who we face in the Asian Cup finals in the UAE in January 2019. Looking at our group, I have already said that we have a chance to qualify - but of course it will not be easy, and we will have to be at our very best during the games. Let’s have a quick look at who we are facing,
The host nation are led by Alberto Zaccheroni, who has coached several of the big teams in Italy including Juventus, Udinese, and both the Milan sides, as well as Japan. He brings a wealth of experience - in his first tournament with the team they finished runners up in the Gulf Cup, losing 5-4 on penalties to Oman. The recently lost their last two friendly internationals to Gabon and Slovakia but will for sure be a difficult team to break down. They are an experienced side, and Omar Abdulrahman Ahmedis is someone to look out for. Of course there are some other very good players too, and they have quality all over the pitch. They vary from a 3-4-2-1 to a 4-2-3-1 depending on who they are playing, so they will be a big test for us. Of course they are at home - but we will have huge Indian support and we will not be alone in the Emirates.
Thailand are current champions of the AFF Suzuki Cup, winning it for the fifth time by beating Indonesia 3-2 over the two legs. They are now coached by Milovan Rajevac, another very experienced coach originally from Serbia. He has had spells with Ghana, which is where I met him, as well as Algeria and Qatar. They prefer a 4-4-2 but this can (and usually does) change depending on the game. Thailand have pace all over the field and can cause all sorts of problems. Their last few results have been mixed, but there is a long way to go and all the teams - including us - are more focused on fine-tuning the system. Thailand are our first game and it should be a great occasion.
A team that has gone under the radar for some time, they have quietly gone about their business and qualified for the Asian Cup finals thrashing Turkmenistan 4-0 in their last qualifying game in March. They have also had impressive results in the Gulf Cup against Qatar and Iraq. Abdulla Yusuf Helal, the big striker, has been scoring recently for them - two top-class finishes against Turkmenistan are evidence the 24-year-old youngster is dangerous. With the experienced Abdulla Abdo Omar supplying the passes, they could be a threat to any team. Bahrain are coached by the Czech Miroslav Soukup, who made his name through pretty much all of the Czech national teams from U18,19,20 and U21s. He has also coached Yemen and has plenty of experience. They like to go 4-2-3-1 most of time and will sometimes go with a 4-4-1-1. As any coach will tell you, it is all about your preparation, and then what happens on the day. Bahrain will be no pushover.
Comments from 3 of the 4 teams
Group A: UAE, Thailand, India, Bahrain
Hosts UAE will be aiming to stamp their mark early on as they look to go one better after finishing runners-up in the 1996 AFC Asian Cup, which they also hosted. Thailand, India and Bahrain, however, will also be confident of advancing to the Round of 16, especially as the six group winners, six runners-up and four best third-place teams will qualify for the knockout stage.
What they said:
Alberto Zaccheroni - UAE Head Coach: “I am comfortable with the draw and believe that we have a good chance of advancing to the round of 16”.
Stephen Constantine - India Head coach: “I think it’s a group that we have expectations. I believe on our day we can beat anybody, obviously it will not be easy but I think there are possibilities to qualify from this group.”
Miroslav Soukup - Bahrain Head Coach: “What can I say, we have a very interesting group because we’re playing against the hosts in the opening game in front of 50,000 to 60,000 spectators, it will be great for our team. But I heard that people are saying that our group is not difficult, but whoever qualified to the Asian Cup Finals, they are strong and they have quality.
The fixtures have also been done and here are the dates and the opponents……..
Saturday January 5th 2019
UAE V BAHRAIN Zayed Stdium Abu Dhabi
Sunday January 6th 2019
THAILAND V INDIA AlNahyan Stadium Abu Dhabi
Thursday January 10th 2019
INDIA V UAE Zayed Stdium Abu Dhabi
BHARAIN V THAILAND Al Maktoum Stadium Dubai
Monday January 14th 2019
UAE V THAILAND Zayed Stdium Abu Dhabi
INDIA V BAHRAIN Sharjah Stadium , Sharjah