LONDON: Alberto Zaccheroni has warned the UAE’s rivals the hosts are ready to spring a surprise.
The Whites head into the tournament on the back of a patchy run of form that has seen them win just twice in the past year. On top of that they are without star man Omar Abdulrahman, out injured until the summer.
But ahead of the tournament opener against Bahrain on Saturday the Italian coach is sure the UAE can go far over the next month.
“I’ve been in this job for a little over a year and the goal was to achieve the best possible result at the Asian Cup,” Zaccheroni said.
“We’ve had a couple of injuries but that shouldn’t be an obstacle. Our preparation has been spot on and we’re ready to get off to the best possible start (against Bahrain).”
Having led Japan to continental glory eight years ago Zaccheroni knows what it takes to win the Asian Cup. But while he is certain to call on his many successful years in the dugout — the 65-year-old has also coached Italian giants AC Milan, Inter and Juventus — Zaccheroni is also only too aware of the changing nature and improvements made by teams across the continent.
“What I will say is that you saw an improvement in Asian teams in terms of fitness and tactics at last year’s World Cup.
“I’m sure you will see further evidence of that at this Asian Cup,” added Zaccheroni, whose Emirates team are favorites to top Group A ahead of Bahrain, Thailand and India.
“A lot of the games will be very tight and winning or losing will comes down to small details.”
The UAE reached the last four at the last edition in Australia four years ago after bundling out holders Japan in the quarter-finals.
“Hopefully we can improve on that performance,” said veteran midfielder Ismail Matar, set to appear in his fourth Asian Cup.
“Football is a big ocean and there are no guarantees,” he added.
“Every game will be hard but we have to learn from the past and try not to repeat the same mistakes over and over.”
Local side Al Ain gave the national side a timely boost by reaching last month’s FIFA Club World Cup final against Real Madrid in Abu Dhabi.
But the smart money will be on South Korea, Iran or Japan to capture the continental title.
The absence of mop-top star Abdulrahman hurts the home side’s chances, but Matar is defiant.
“It’s up to us to go out and repay the trust and faith everyone have in us,” said the 35-year-old.
“We will leave everything on the pitch and see where it takes us.”