Rodolfo Arruabarrena speaks during a press conference.
Mohammad Abdullah, Senior Sports Reporter
The UAE’s Argentinian coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena charted out a new map for the national team to accomplish the 2026 World Cup goal.
The UAE narrowly missed the 2022 Qatar World Cup qualification after losing to Australia in the continental play-off.
They had kept their hopes alive by beating group leaders South Korea but failed to get the momentum going and fell prey to Australia in a high-pressure game.
But with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announcing a new qualification format for an expanded 48-team 2026 World Cup, it gave new hope to all the countries who came agonisingly close before missing out by a whisker. The 2026 will be jointly hosted by Canada, US and Mexico.
In the 2026 World Cup, there will be 48 teams instead of 32. The move is the brainchild of the FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who wants to give more countries a chance to be part of the showpiece event.
So automatically, the World Cup berths for the AFC were also increased from five to nine. Usually five slots are given to the Asian teams. But in the 2022 World Cup, Qatar as hosts have qualified automatically along with Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Australia and South Korea.
Arruabarrena said there is an opportunity up for grabs for all the nations who are aspiring to play in the biggest sport extravaganza. He set the UAE a new goal of qualifying for the 2026 World Cup.
The UAE coach stressed the importance of everyone working to reach this goal by qualifying for the 2026 World Cup after an increase in the number of seats for Asia, pointing out that all teams will strive.
“We will work together to achieve our goal. I hope in a bid to qualify for the World Cup, the standard of our game at the local league will evolve organically.
“This will raise the level of the game and the competition, which will prepare the players to accomplish the bigger goal on the international stage,” said Arruabarrena at the UAE FA headquarters on Tuesday.
“We will have training camps from time to time. The camps are important for the team. We will also follow with the coaches of the respective clubs of the players. The presence of distinguished coaches in the league is a positive sign and the players should benefit from the expertise of the great coaches,” he added.
The UAE manager renewed his confidence in the local players, indicating that they have the opportunity to change for the better and reach the required level.
He revealed that he will infuse young blood to synergise the new energy into the team but the experienced players will be an important cog in the wheels of his plans.
“We are striving to create a new generation of distinguished players for the future of Emirati football, in addition to the great experienced players.
“These players have served the country for a long time and given a lot to the UAE football. But they are still capable of delivering a lot more. Their experience is vital and will guide the younger generation of players in the important tournaments.
“I also have a few players in my sights, who have the potential of carrying the Emirati football forward. They can live up to the expectations of the fans and play a vital role in our qualification for the 2026 World Cup. But I will not name any of them as it will bring them under a lot of pressure which can harm their game,” he concluded.
The new qualification format will consist of four rounds, it was revealed by the AFC on their website. The pathway to the 2026 World Cup and 2027 Asian Cup involves a very complex and grueling round of fixtures. But it has been so designed that it provides an equal opportunity to all.
In the preliminary joint qualification round 1, a total of 22 teams – ranking from 26 to 47 — will face off in a home and away format. The 11 winners will advance to the second round of the qualification.
The second round will feature a total 36 teams. The 11 winners of the first round will join the teams – ranking from 1-25. These 36 teams will be divided into nine groups of four teams each.
During the Asian Qualifiers, 18 teams will be divided into three groups and the top two teams from each group will directly make it to the World Cup finals.
The second and third place finishers from each group will again be divided into two groups and the winners play a complex round of knock-outs to advance to the continental play-offs.