Mohamed Ahmed has endured a miserable season but the Al Ain right-back admits the support of his team-mates at club and international level have helped him return “stronger and better”.
Despite only featuring in three games in total during the campaign – he made his long-awaited return from a knee injury in the 3-2 Arabian Gulf League triumph over Al Wahda on April 29 – the 28-year-old defender has been selected in new UAE coach Edgardo Bauza’s first 30-man squad ahead of the do-or-die World Cup 2018 qualifier with Thailand later this month.
Ahmed suffered a season-ending injury 24 minutes into the UAE’s 1-0 defeat to Australia at Al Jazira’s Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium during their September 6 clash.
Ahmed spent the next seven months on the sidelines but revealed a huge network of support got him back on the field and that he now feels better than ever.
“When you are injured these are difficult stages in the life of a football player and every player can relate to these stages,” said Ahmed, capped 50 times by the Whites since making his debut in 2011.
“But not always will each player find the same support that I have got, from the Al Ain medical team, the players and the public, to the national team and my fellow players there from all clubs, as well as my family and friends who must all receive great credit after God Almighty in helping me return stronger and better.
Defeat to the Socceroos left the UAE on the brink of elimination for next year’s World Cup. They face Thailand on June 13 at Bangkok’s Rajamangala National Stadium knowing only a victory will do if their already slim hopes of qualifying for Russia are to remain intact.
But Ahmed insists both he and his colleague are focused on the task at hand, with nine points from their remaining three games against the War Elephants, as well as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, paramount.
“I feel a strong desire to achieve positive results with the national team and provide a satisfactory level, especially in next match with Thailand,” added Ahmed, who also featured for Al Ain in the 2-1 victory against Ittihad Kalba on the final day of the AGL season as well as in the 1-0 first-leg defeat to Iran’s Esteghlal in the AFC Champions League last 16.
“The team wants to win and nothing else. We respect the Thai team but the ambition is to provide a result for the fans and get an important three points that we put towards qualifying.
“With the public’s support we will achieve a positive result and can then start preparing for the next match.”
The UAE, meanwhile, are searching for a new opponent to face in a friendly before their crucial qualifier with Thailand after Lebanon pulled out of Wednesday’s scheduled warm-up.
Newly-appointed Whites coach Bauza’s reign had been due to get underway with a friendly against their Arabic rivals but the Cedars cancelled the match in favour of heading to Qatar for a training camp ahead of their own Asia Cup 2019 qualifier with Malaysia on the same day the UAE play in Bangkok.
Bauza’s 30-man squad arrived in the Malaysian capital on Friday for a seven-day camp. The Whites head to Thailand on Thursday to prepare for the qualifier against a side rooted to the bottom of Group B in Asia.
The top two of the group will advance to the World Cup along with the best two teams from Group A, while the two teams who finish third in each group will advance to a two-legged play-off. The victor there will face the team who finish fourth in fifth round of CONCACAF qualifying in an inter-confederation play-off, with the winner going through to Russia.
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