Australia coach Ange Postecoglou says Tuesday’s Asian Cup semi-final in Newcastle between the free-scoring Socceroos and the tournament’s surprise package United Arab Emirates is not about the new “Messi or Ronaldo”.
The bushy-haired Omar Abdulrahman has excelled in the Gulf side’s sensational run to the last four, capped by their stunning knockout of defending champions Japan, drawing excitable comparisons with some of the game’s biggest stars.
But Postecoglou sniffed: “The Chinese had the Chinese Ronaldo, Maradona. Everyone has a Messi or Maradona.
“(Abdulrahman) is a good player, so is (Ali) Mabkhout up front,” the Socceroos coach added, refusing to single out the UAE danger man, whose jaw-dropping “panenka” penalty against the Blue Samurai in the quarter-finals underlined his prodigious talent.
The 23-year-old Abdulrahman — whose idol is France great Zinedine Zidane — has been one of the standout performers of the tournament, his creativity helping forward Mabkhout to four goals.
Al Jazira sharp-shooter Mabkhout is in a rich vein of form, with nine goals in his last eight outings for his country, and is in with a chance of winning the Asian Cup’s golden boot.
UAE coach Mahdi Ali has worked with the bulk of his squad for over 10 years — a fact Postecoglou says makes the Emiratis, appearing in their first semi-final since 1996, a formidable opponent.
“Every team in Asia has technically gifted players. The ones who use them better are the ones who have a really cohesive team and I think UAE have one of those squads,” the Socceroos boss said.
“That is where the danger lies, rather than with individuals,” he added, adopting a softer line than that of Australia defender Trent Sainsbury, who suggested Abdulrahman was not the most hard-working of players and promising to “get in his face”.
The Al Ain midfielder, who has previously been linked with Manchester City, was seen limping as he arrived for a training session on Sunday and UAE staff will be doing everything to make sure he’s fit.
Australia’s inspirational captain Mile Jedinak will have the job of subduing the player nicknamed “Amoory” in what promises to be one of the tastiest clashes of the tournament so far.
Australia, runners-up to Japan in 2011, have had an extra day’s rest after their 2-0 win over China in the quarter-finals, 24 hours before UAE stunned Japan on penalties on Friday and the Socceroos will be hot favourites.
Postecoglou has Matthew Spiranovic back from suspension, but there are concerns over the fitness of Ivan Franjic and Mathew Leckie, who were seen with ice packs on their hamstrings during training Sunday.
As both teams chase a first Asian Cup title, Tim Cahill is hoping to be the Socceroos hero again after his sensational double against the Chinese.
“Exciting times ahead but feet are firmly on the floor and we look forward to the game,” the talisman wrote on Instagram.