UAE set for Lebanon test in Fifa World Cup qualifier
Bert van Marwijk's men begin their Group A campaign in the final AFC qualifying round against Lebanon in Dubai on Thursday
Having turned their fortunes around in stunning fashion in the previous round, UAE are set to launch their bid to qualify for the Fifa World Cup for the first time since 1990.
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Bert van Marwijk’s men begin their Group A campaign in the final AFC qualifying round against Lebanon in Dubai on Thursday.
The Whites will hope to get their campaign off to a flying start in a group where tough teams like South Korea, Iran, Iraq and Syria await them in the next round of matches.
But the team will certainly be inspired by their performance in the last four games of the previous round in Dubai.
Facing a must-win situation in their last four Group G games, UAE grew from strength to strength, producing one impressive performance after another as they scripted four victories (4-0 against Malaysia, 3-1 against Thailand, 5-0 against Indonesia and 3-2 against Vietnam) to book their berth in the 12-team third round as group winners.
“Two months ago, we played four games in 12 days, but on the other side, I said that time that you gain certain rhythm, so that can be an advantage,” Van Marwijk told reporters ahead of their match against Lebanon.
“And now two months later, we have to start all over again. So I think we have had very good preparations. But it never guarantees anything. We were in Serbia (for a training camp), we worked very well there. Then we had four-five days of preparations here.
“So I think we are ready for this. And we are only concentrating on this game. The first game is always the most important game. This is the next round, so the resistance will be more as you get to play against better teams. It will be difficult, but I am satisfied with the preparation and I have a lot of trust in my team.”
Van Marwijk, who helped Saudi Arabia qualify for the 2018 World Cup, said sticking to one style is the key to success in gruelling qualifying rounds.
“If you change every time, every game, your style, your way of playing, it’s not ideal. For me, it’s important that we develop our own way of playing, and if you succeed in that, then you see that your team is growing more in confidence,” the Dutch coach said.
“So that’s what I tell my players all time and at the same time, we analyse our opponents very well, so we know everything about our opponent and we try to beat them after we find their weak areas. The main thing is that we try to develop our own style.”
The 69-year-old Van Marwijk believes UAE have what it takes to reach the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
“I think I said after the last qualifying round (in June) that we have a chance to go to the World Cup. This is still the same,” he said.
“I trust my team, I think that we are improving all the time, you also have to be a little bit lucky. But we are preparing very well, and the players have the belief in the way we want to play.”
The 12 teams across the two groups will play 10 matches each on a home and away basis. The top two teams in each group will qualify for the World Cup after the gruelling six-month final qualifying round.
The two third-placed teams will be locked in a playoff in the fourth round with the winner advancing to an inter-confederation playoff for a World Cup spot.
With the prestige of a World Cup place at stake, UAE will be banking on home support in their opening game against Lebanon at the Zabeel Stadium in Dubai as the authorities have allowed vaccinated fans to attend the match at 60 per cent of the stadium capacity.
Majed Hassan, a key member of the UAE team, is looking forward to drawing inspiration from the home fans. “In the previous round, we knew the attendance limit was set at 30 per cent. They gave us a huge push and we did our best. Thanks to them we have passed that round with all the goals that we scored,” Hassan said.
“Now we are confident that they will come to support us even more than the previous round and we promise that we will do our best to win the match tomorrow.”
World Cup Qualifiers (Final Round)
Note: The top two teams from each group will qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The two third-placed teams will be locked in a playoff battle. The winner will advance to an inter-confederation play-off for a World Cup spot
UAE vs Lebanon
Zabeel Stadium, Dubai
South Korea vs Iraq
World Cup Stadium, Seoul
Iran vs Syria
Azadi Stadium, Tehran
Japan vs Oman
Suita City Football Stadium, Osaka
Saudi Arabia vs Vietnam
King Saud University Stadium, Riyadh
Australia vs China
Khalifa International Stadium, Doha
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