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UAE aim to move a step closer to final World Cup qualifying round


Last updated on June 11, 2021 at 12.30 am
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The Whites are on a roll. With two straight wins in the crunch Asian World Cup Group G qualifiers over Malaysia (4-0) and Thailand (3-1), Bert van Marwijk’s men will hope to continue the strong momentum on Friday (8:45pm UAE Time) against Indonesia, a team they had thrashed 5-0 in the first leg.

That emphatic win over the Indonesians had come in 2019, months before the world was brought to its knees by the Covid-19 crisis.

Ali Mabkhout, who sits in the third place behind Portuguese icon Cristiano Ronaldo, Indian captain Sunil Chhetri and one place above Argentinian legend Lionel Messi on the list of the highest international goal-scorers among active players, was the star of the show on that October night against Indonesia, scoring a sublime hundred.

The prolific striker will be expected to be lead the home team’s challenge against the already eliminated Indonesia on Friday at the Zabeel Stadium.

With 12 points from six matches, the second-placed UAE currently trail group leaders Vietnam, who face Malaysia in Friday’s other match in Dubai, by two points.

A UAE win by any margin on the morrow coupled with a Vietnam draw and defeat against Malaysia would send Van Marwijk’s men top of the table.

Only the eight group winners in Asia will advance to the final round of Fifa 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

If both Vietman and the UAE win their respective matches on Friday night, then it will be a winner-take-all clash between the two teams in Dubai on June 15.

But the UAE, who enjoy a healthy goal difference, can still advance as one of the four best-placed runners-up teams across eight groups in Asia.

And the national team’s Al Ain winger, Bandar Al Ahbabi, said the UAE would enter the field aiming for three points on Friday.

“Tomorrow’s match against the Indonesian team will not be easy. We have to perform in every game like it’s our final stand, so we can lead The Whites to the next stage of qualifying,” Al Ahbabi said on the eve of the match.

The UAE head coach Van Marwijk, though, refused to take Indonesia lightly.

“We take each match separately, and deal with all teams with the same intensity and preparations. There is no weak team or a strong team. We have respect for all our opponents,” the Dutch coach said on Thursday.

Under Van Marwijk, who famously helped Saudi Arabia qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the UAE have responded to the tough challenge when the qualifying rounds resumed in Dubai on June 3, winning two straight matches and jumping from the fourth place to the second spot in the points table.

“We started preparing for the current stage a long time ago, and we focused our efforts on defining our own way of playing and our team strategy,” he said.

“This has distinguished our performance in all matches (in the current qualifying campaign), and I think we succeeded in this aspect, which is something that most of the followers have noticed.”

Rituraj Borkakoty A big fan of the Argentina national football team, Rituraj generally writes on sports. But he deeply cherishes the time he spent with his favourite musician from Assam, India, for an interview. And he loves to bring human interest stories to Khaleej Times readers.