India v United Arab Emirates: Preview
United Arab Emirates coach Alberto Zaccheroni says reports about his future will not be a distraction ahead of the Asian Cup hosts' crunch clash with India. A 1-1 draw with Bahrain in their Group A opener added to the pressure on UAE ahead of their next two fixtures, with India topping the table after thrashing Thailand 4-1 last time out. UAE must either finish in the top two of the pool or as one of the four best third-placed teams to progress, with Zaccheroni, whose contract expires at the end of the Asian Cup, coming under fire.
Reports suggest Zlatko Dalic, who last year led Croatia to their first World Cup final, has been lined up as a replacement for Zaccheroni after the tournament. But the former Japan coach shrugged off the speculation when he spoke to reporters ahead of Thursday's match at Zayed Sports City Stadium. "My focus is on the game against India and to deliver the best performance and satisfy the UAE fans," the Italian said. "My confidence in the players is very big. I will do my best to deliver the best result. My main objective is to win the Asian Cup."
"As a coach I have more than 35 years of experience – I don't care about such stuff. We know that we failed our fans and we apologise to them. We all hoped to win to satisfy the fans. But our focus now is on the game against India. I have enough experience."
Stephen Constantine oversaw a thumping defeat of Thailand in India's opener but is demanding more from his side against UAE, who have not lost this fixture since 2001. "Against Thailand, we gave the ball away too many times which put the opposition in an advantageous position," Constantine said. "We have to look after the ball better. I feel we started a bit nervous. Some young boys were too eager to press. We can't repeat it against UAE. They are a physical, as well as a skilful side. I am not worried about our fitness. We have to play our best game to get the result."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
India - Sunil Chhetri
After scoring two goals against Thailand, there is no doubt Chhetri has already made his mark on the tournament. India's captain took his international tally to 67 goals with that brace, moving him past the great Lionel Messi into second place on the list of most prolific current international players. The only man in front of him is Cristiano Ronaldo, but Chhetri should narrow the 18-goal deficit during the rest of the Asian Cup.
UAE - Ahmed Khalil
With the hosts heading to defeat in their Group A opener against Bahrain, they needed a cool head to make sure they took a point from the game. Cue Khalil, who stepped up to convert a late penalty that ensures UAE are not facing a mountain to climb if they are to qualify. The Shabab Al-Ahli star is a former Asian Footballer of the Year, having won the title in 2015, and can show his quality against India.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- UAE beat India 2-0 in their only previous meeting at the Asian Cup. It was in the group stages of the 1984 tournament.
- Following their 4-1 victory against Thailand in their opening group game, India will be looking to avoid defeat in back to back Asian Cup games for the first time.
- UAE will be looking to extend their unbeaten run to three games in the Asian Cup – they last went on a longer run without defeat in the competition between the 1992 and 1996 tournaments (seven games – W4 D3 L0).
- India have scored seven goals in their last three Asian Cup games (W1 D0 L2) – more than they managed in their first eight games in the competition between 1964 and 2011 (five goals).
- UAE have kept just one clean sheet across their last 13 Asian Cup games (W4 D3 L6), a 0-0 with North Korea during the 2011 group stages, conceding in each of their last nine matches.