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Asian Cup 2015: United Arab Emirates attack can provide edge

United Arab Emirates begin their Asian Cup adventure in need of a boost, having failed to defend their 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations trophy by exiting in the semi-finals to hosts Saudi Arabia.

As a hub of commerce, the Arabian Peninsula nation are a prime destination for expats, with their seven emirates housing just 1.4 natives from a population of around 9.2m.

With such a small populace, Gulf Cup triumphs in 2007 and 2013 are an impressive feat for UAE, a nation which made its first, and only, World Cup appearance at Italia ‘90.

The Whites’ best-ever finish in the Asian Cup was second place in 1996, when they suffered the pain of a spot kick shoot-out roulette, but it seems unlikely they will best that in this edition.

Their recent record in this continental competition is certainly not as rosy, as the UAE have been unable to make it past the first round on their past three attempts.

Encouraging warm-up results, including a draw with hosts Australia, bodes well for a better assault on the Asian Cup this time out, as does the White’s exciting potential up front.

Veteran striker Ismail Matar is the fourth most-capped player in the United Arab Emirates’ history, but it is 24-year-old forward Ali Mabkhout who is most likely to surpass the legendary Adnan Al Talyani’s record of 161.

Magnificent Mabkhout was crucial for 2013 Gulf Cup success and, after being prolific in the Under-20s, the poacher has made fair weather of the step up to the senior side.

The UAE’s most potent forward threat, Mabkhout, fired an early warning to Asian Cup competitors by grabbing five goals to ensure the Whites finished in third place in their most recent Gulf Cup challenge.

Fellow forward Ahmed Khalil also chipped in with brace in the semi-final and, although the 23-year-old boasts slightly less impressive scoring stats, provides a vital foil to Mabkhout’s magic.

Coach Mahdi Ali has also recently experimented with Khalil and Mabkhout playing out wide in support of fellow fleet-footed forward Ismail Al Hammadi. With their versatility and pace up front they should provide a much sterner test for opponents this winter.