World Cup qualifiers: UAE face must-win game 
against South Korea

UAE players during a training session ahead of their World Cup qualifying game against South Korea. (UAEFA Twitter)
UAE players during a training session ahead of their World Cup qualifying game against South Korea. (UAEFA Twitter)

Only the top two teams from each group will qualify for the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar

By Team KT

Published: Thu 11 Nov 2021, 1:05 AM

UAE will take on South Korea in a crunch World Cup qualifying game at Goyang Stadium in South Korea on Thursday, hoping to earn their first victory in what has been a difficult campaign so far.

Having drawn three of their four games, UAE are currently occupying the fourth place in the six-team Group A. The third round of the World Cup qualifiers has 12 teams that have been divided into two groups of six.

Only the top two teams from each group will qualify for the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar.

The third-placed teams in the two groups will be locked in a playoff battle with the winner advancing to an inter-confederation playoff for a berth in the World Cup.

For UAE to get into the race for a berth in the next World Cup, they have to beat the formidable South Korea, who are currently in second place in the group behind table-toppers Iran, on Thursday.

Having won two and drawn two of their first four games, South Korea are targeting an incredible 10th successive appearance at the World Cup.

A third successive win on home soil for Korea would guarantee they stay at least within two points of Iran ahead of their trip to Doha to face Iraq on Tuesday, while an Iranian slip-up away in Lebanon could see the Koreans take top spot at the midway stage.

Back-to-back draws against the Lebanese and Syria was far from the ideal start for Bert Van Marwijk’s UAE. Then defeat to Iran left them in a lowly position after three rounds of games.

It could have been much worse, however, had Ali Mabkhout not salvaged a point in the fourth minute of stoppage time against Iraq last time out as the 2-2 draw in Dubai at least kept them within striking distance of third-placed Lebanon and ahead of both the Iraqis and Syria.

Defeat in Korea would leave the UAE eight points adrift of the Taeguk Warriors and surely end their hopes of a top-two finish and automatic qualification, although third place may be a more realistic target, meaning Tuesday’s meeting with Lebanon in Sidon will be crucial.

Paulo Bento’s Korea began their campaign slowly, playing out a goalless draw with Iraq and edging Lebanon 1-0. But there were more positive signs on Matchdays Three and Four, most notably Son Heung-min ending his two-year scoring drought from open play by netting a late winner in a 2-1 victory over Syria.

The Taeguk Warriors then produced a fine display in a 1-1 draw in Iran after Son scored his second in two games to put the East Asians in front, only for an Alireza Jahanbakhsh equaliser to deny them a first-ever win over the Iranians in Tehran.

Back in Korea to face the UAE, the hosts will be without Bordeaux striker Hwang Ui-jo as he nurses a hamstring injury, but their English Premier League stars Son and Hwang Hee-chang are part of the squad.

Thursday’s game also marks the first time the sides have met since Korea defeated the UAE 3-0 in a friendly in Malaysia in 2015.

It will also be 10 years to the day since they last faced off competitively, when late goals from Lee Keun-ho and Park Chu-young secured the Koreans a 2-0 win in Dubai in the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.

A capacity crowd of 35,000 is expected to attend the match on Thursday.

It is the first time in nearly two years that Son’s side will play a home international in front of a full stadium, with restrictions on spectators recently easing.

“I’ve talked to my teammates already about finally playing in front of fans,” said Hwang Hee-chan, who has impressed since moving to Premier League club Wolves on loan from RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga.

“We’re all extra motivated to do well for them. We’ll try to put on an entertaining show for our supporters,” Yonhap News Agency quoted him as saying.

Thursday's matches (UAE Time)

Group A

South Korea v UAE (3:30pm)

Iraq v Syria (9pm)

Lebanon vs Iran (4pm)

Group B

Australia vs Saudi Arabia (1:10pm)

Vietnam vs Japan (4pm)

China vs Oman (7pm)

(With inputs from AFC website and AFP)

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