DUBAI, Nov 6 (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates began to fine-tune preparations for their hosting of the Asian Cup at a Dubai training camp on Tuesday with Italian Alberto Zaccheroni at the helm but without their best known player, Omar Abdulrahman.
Former Asian Player of the Year Abdulrahman underwent anterior ligament repair in Barcelona last week after injuring his knee playing for Saudi club Al Hilal and will miss the Jan. 5-Feb 1 tournament.
The loss of playmaker Abdulrahman is a massive blow to the hosts as the 27-year-old had been in fine form this year after moving on a season-long loan to Al Hilal from Emirati club Al Ain in a deal which some reports said was valued at $15 million.
His erstwile international team mates will assemble on Tuesday evening for a two-week training camp that includes international friendlies against Bolivia in Dubai on Nov. 16 and Egypt four days later in Abu Dhabi.
Former AC Milan and Inter Milan coach Zaccheroni, who led Japan to the 2011 Asian Cup title, has called up mostly regular internationals but also a sprinkling of new faces from the under-23 team that finished third in the Asian Games.
The UAE, which previously hosted the Asian Cup in 1996, were drawn with Thailand, India and Bahrain in Group A of next year’s tournament, which will be the first to feature 24 teams.
The hosts will be looking to win the Asian Cup for the first time in February after finishing as runners-up to Saudi Arabia on home soil 22 years ago and third in Australia four years ago.
Zaccheroni’s team drew 1-1 with Honduras and lost 2-0 to Venezuela in friendlies in Barcelona last month and are currently 81st in the FIFA rankings, the eighth highest Asian team. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty)