UAE coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena speaks during a press conference in Dubai on Thursday. Courtesy: Twitter
Mohammad Abdullah, Senior Sports Reporter
The UAE coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena charted out a route for their qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup ahead of the crucial play-off match against Australia.
The UAE are seeking to make a cut for the showpiece event for the first time since their maiden appearance in 1990. The UAE run-up to the continental playoffs has not been a smooth sail.
It was a bumpy ride punctuated with hurdles, losses, victories and draws. But they managed to finish third in their group with a victory over leaders South Korea in the last game to keep their hopes alive.
South Korea finished on the top of the group and had already qualified along with Iran before their last match of the third round. This will be their 10th consecutive appearance at the football’s biggest event.
UAE’s hopes were hanging by a thread when Arruabarrena took over and a loss in the first game against Iraq had put their chances in peril. They were almost written off as they were up against the group leaders in the next match, which was a must-win clash.
Arruabarrena inspired and motivated the team as the Whites ended the South Korea’s unbeaten streak of 23 matches to book their berth in the playoff.
Top two teams from each group automatically qualify for the World Cup and third place finisher take a detour through a series of gruelling playoffs to book their berth.
Arruabarrena revealed the plans to prepare the UAE for the crunch playoff on June 7 in Doha. Before the Australia match, UAE will attend two training camps and play a few friendlies.
“The first camp will begin the UAE from May 24, a day before the final round of the Pro League. Players of Al Wahda and Sharjah will join the camp later after the President’s Cup final,” informed Arruabarrena.
“The second camp will be held in Doha from May 1. Meanwhile, the UAE will also play one or two friendly matches to get some practice. The match will be held on May 30 or 31,” he added, while addressing a press conference at the UAE FA headquarters in Dubai.
Arruabarrena also showed concern about the fitness of the players, especially those playing in the AFC Champions League matches in Saudi Arabia. Three of the UAE clubs – Shabab Al Ahli, Sharjah and Al Jazira — are currently plying their trade in the AFC Champions League.
“I am confident we will play the Australia match in the best of the health and fitness. I have trust in the capabilities of my players. I don’t want to talk much about it but will prove on the field,” he stressed. Arruabarrena has the experience of managing the UAE clubs as he has already worked with Shabab Al Ahli and Al Wasl earlier. The coach also expressed his delight on the return of star striker Omar Abdulrehman, who is coming back into the fold after a long gap due to an injury.
Omar is in a stellar form in the ongoing AFC Champions League. He has impressed the coach and fans alike with his sublime drifts and passes.
“I met Omar with a lot of other young players. All the players exactly know what they need to do to be in the national team. I have seen him. He is performing well and I hope he continues to do so for the UAE. It is always nice to have him,” apprised Arruabarrena.
Omar is considered as of the best talents in the Asian football. He was linked to many European clubs during his hay days before the injury marred his shining career.
European giants like Barcelona and Arsenal were keeping a track of his career and he also appeared for a trial with the Premier League champions Manchester City.
Commenting on handling the pressure of the high-profile playoff against Australia, Arruabarrena advised the players to stay away from it. The UAE have not gone so deep into the qualifiers since 2001. This has been their best campaign in the last 21 years.