This month’s 25th edition of the Arabian Gulf Cup marks the end of a glorious era for UAE football.
Questions posed to head coach Rodolfo Arubarena after a widely divisive squad selection now focus on whether this is a bold start to a new era of success ahead of the upcoming Asian Cup, or is it imperfect The successor honed the beginning of the bloodline.
Since the regional competition in 2010, the UAE’s famous “Golden Generation” trio (the seminal 2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil, 2016 champion Omar Abdurrahman And 81-ball national record sharpshooter Ali Mabhot) did not participate in major events. current.
These superstars have led the team to the 2012 London Olympics, won the 2013 Arabian Gulf Cup, reached consecutive Asian Cup semi-finals, and built a remarkable reputation overseas.
Undoubtedly the UAE gaming icon. However, it is no longer untouchable.
Excluding the former pair in Iraq is a given.
Khalil last scored in the ADNOC Pro League in November 2020 and has just returned to regular duty for newly promoted Al-Bataeh.
The glory days of “Amoory” as Khaleeji’s football prince are a faded memory. Several seasons hampered by serious injuries and a precipitous decline in offensive ability have taken their toll on his lofty status.
Al-Wasl – the 31-year-old’s fourth club since August 2018 – has yet to witness a single goal contribution in 10 largely forgotten top-flight knockout appearances.
He spoke on condition of anonymity when he was asked to turn the tide against Australia in June’s weak but painful fourth-round qualifying round of the 2022 World Cup. It’s the first competitive cap since November 2019 and looks likely to be the last of his misfit.
Khalil, who has not featured for the UAE in a decade, only played 86 minutes in the troubled earliest stages of the latest World Cup process.
Yet last month’s alarming call to shun Al-Jazira icon Mabkhout represented a seismic shock.
“Ali Mabkhout is a respected and good player,” Arruabarrena, a former Boca Juniors, Wasl and Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai club tactician who was hired in February 2022, told Blind UAE media. “He’s been in the team with me on more than one occasion, but I’m looking for other strengths on the pitch, different from what the players have.
“Some decisions have to be made, no matter how difficult they are. My only concern is presenting a good team for UAE football.
“I know how important Ali Mabkhout is to the team and the fans, but the teamwork is what matters.”
A grateful nation will no longer always turn to its historic shooter. With Arruabarrena at the helm, of course.
A closely contested win against South Korea and a narrow win over Qatar gave the 47-year-old a certain level of sporting capital. Such results give hope after two failed experiments with Bert van Marwijk.
The Dutch tried to take the country too far, too fast. That made for a miserable 2022 qualifying campaign, plus the final insult of Qatar’s crushing 5-0 defeat in the quarter-finals of the 2021 Arab Cup.
Arruabarrena’s naturalized attacking trio of Al-Ain’s Caio Canedo, Wasl’s Fabio De Lima and – previously mothballed – Al-Wahda veteran Sebastian Tagliabue will now take responsibility.
The same goes for emerging attackers such as Al-Wasl’s Ali Saleh, and the electric Shabab Al-Ahli duo of Harib Abdalla and Yahya Al-Ghassani.
In the pre-match adjustment against Lebanon, Abdullah and Tagliab scored the only goal together. It was an encouraging result after a 1-0 loss to Paraguay and a 4-0 win over Venezuela in September, and a 5-0 rout ahead of Argentina’s brilliant triumph at the 2022 World Cup.
The forwards must go through Saturday’s Group B clash against defending champions Bahrain before moving on to Kuwait and Qatar.
Mabkhout, however, has scored a leading 13 league goals this season – ex-Barcelona striker Paco Alcacer, for example, has netted six goals in top-placed Sharjah.
His 14 goals over the course of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup are also the most of any player. There, the Whites were knocked out by Australia as they narrowly missed a return to top global sport for the first time since 1990.
It seemed fitting that Mabkhout’s name was included in the preliminary list of 35 people.
His seemingly inimitable attacking threat will be essential in a race where the UAE is one of the main contenders after Saudi Arabia and Qatar decided to opt for an experimental roster after the World Cup.
Redemption will also be required following their exit from the Doha Hollow group stage in 2019. Arruabarrena just has a very different idea of how to make it happen.
His Emirates will increasingly focus on rare Al-Jazira midfielders Abdulla Ramadan and Sharjah tyro Majid Rashid – a bright prospect who has been picked to join Saleh in training with Premier League Crystal Palace during the World Cup suspension.
Rapid Jazira’s centre-back Khalifa Al-Hammadi is one of Asia’s best defensive talents, while Shabab Al-Ahli’s right-back Ahmed Jamil dreams of claiming the position.
The foursome are all 24 or younger.
However, Arruabarrena studied Van Marwijk’s blunder. The vital roles of the likes of Al-Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa, Shabab Al-Ahli stalwart Walid Abbas and Sharjah’s steely midfielder Majed Hassan continued.
These are the players who have backed Khalil, Mabhout and Abdurrahman for the better part of a decade.
They are still entrusted with continuing this role for a new generation. We will start in Basra to gauge whether it can become “golden” in the future.