AL HABSI confident of Asian Cup qualification
By Haridev Pushparaj — MUSCAT: MARCH 20 – He is the biggest name on the Omani sporting landscape, the icon, the legend and cult figure. Ali al Habsi is an inspiration to the Omani people ever since he burst onto the scene as a seventeen-year-old in 2001. The 2009 Gulf Cup victory made him the household name that he is today and probably the most recognizable sporting figure in Oman. Ali stands at a unique position today and was given the honour of being the brand ambassador of a well-known business group. As Oman begin their 2017 season with the Asian Cup qualifiers scheduled to begin on March 28 against Bhutan, Ali turned his focus to the immediate challenge: the national camp beginning today.
“Well I’m looking forward to the national camp. It has been a long time since I played with the Oman team, been almost a year. Now we are going to play Asian Cup qualifiers against Bhutan, so now we have to focus. The new manager Pim Verbeek has come and we all have to work together,’’ he added.
The Asian Cup qualifiers game against Bhutan on March 28th will be the new Dutch coach Pim Verbeek’s first game as manager. Ali shared his thoughts about the manager as well. “He has great experience and has been with Australia and South Korea as their coaches. He has the full support of OFA President Sheikh Salim and the fans,’’ Ali added.
Asked about how the coach can contribute to Oman football, Ali replied in the affirmative.
“I am sure he will work very well with the youngsters, the key aspect I feel is that he will bring in a lot of hunger among the players to push themselves,’’ the Oman captain added.
Ali has been in tremendous form in the English Championship (second division) where he is playing for Reading FC.
The goalkeeper delved into the games and his form after the game against Sheffield on Wednesday, which Reading FC had won.
“Jaap Staam is doing a fantastic job for the team. We are in fifth place on the table, our next game against Leeds will be huge. We want to be in play-off,’’ he added.
Talking about the Oman’s opponents in the Asian Cup qualifiers, the star goalkeeper said they will not take anyone lightly.
“We want to be in the top of the group, our opponents (Bhutan, Palestine, Maldives) will not be easy but we are confident,’’ he added.
Ali also said the challenges for Oman in 2017 will be the Asian Cup and building the team with the new faces who could be introduced by the new manager.