UAE look to maintain winning momentum to boost WC hopes

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UAE players attend a training session.

Mohammad Abdullah, Senior Sports Reporter

A confident UAE will look to consolidate their position in the third spot and boost their chances when they take on Iran in the 2022 World Cup qualifying match at Azadi Stadium on Tuesday.

Suddenly the UAE’s prospect of qualifying for the showpiece event started looking rosier after two consecutive victories against Lebanon and Syria.

After a stuttering start in the final round, the UAE have staged a brilliant comeback to become a strong contenders for a third- placed finish, with an outside chance of direct qualification still alive mathematically.

But, they will have to win all their remaining matches and wait for the other results to go in their favour. South Korea are sitting in the second spot with 17 points, a lead of eight points.

With the two straight victories, UAE have moved to nine points and opened a lead of four points on Lebanon, who are fourth.

After notching up four successive wins in the second round, UAE got their campaign off to a dismal start in the third round. They spurned quite a few chances in the beginning and failed to notch up a single victory in the first five games, which fetched them only three points with two losses and three draws.

But, the golden boy Ali Mabkhout turned the tide in their sixth game against Lebanon in an away match as they opened their account with victory to keep their hopes alive.

UAE coach Bert Van Marwijk had conceded that their hopes of the direct qualification was but over and he is eyeing a third place finish to remain in hunt.

Van Marwijk is credited to have masterminded the Saudi Arabia’s qualification for the Russia World Cup in 2018 and drove his native The Netherlands to final of 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Van Marwijk predicted a tough game against Iran but said he is confident of putting up a good show going by the result of their previous encounter in Dubai.

“First of all, I will congratulate Iran on their qualification for the World Cup. They are a very strong team, may be the best in the group,” said Van Marwijk.

“I remember the result of our earlier match and the margin of the defeat was only 1-0. We were a little unlucky and so that will give us a lot of confidence.”

Iran had to toil to eke out a hard-fought victory against the UAE before a 70th minute strike by Mehdi Taremi’ made the difference in that match.

UAE’s talismanic striker Caio Canedo, who was the architecture of the UAE’s victory against Syria five days ago, said the they will look to boost their chances of qualification.

In the absence of the hosts of UAE top stars including the players like Mabkhout and Fabio de Lima against Syria, Caio stepped up and took the UAE through.

He scored the opening goal and assisted one for Yahyah Ali Al Ghassani, who tapped the second as the UAE cruised to an easy 2-0 victory over Syria.

“We play every game like a final and it is another one. We have dream to play in the World Cup and we believe in our dream,” said Caio.

“To come closer to realizing our dreams, we have to keep the winning momentum going. We have a plan and we will try to execute it on the field to boost our chances,” he added.

The naturalized Brazilian has been an important cog in the wheel of Van Mawijk’s plans for the qualification. He has scored six goals in sixteen appearances for the UAE national team.

The UAE will be missing the services of Mabkhout and Lima but they have been boosted by the return of Bandar Al Ahbabi, who is coming back in n the fold after serving his suspension.

Twelve teams have been divided into two groups of six each. The top two top finishers from each group will directly book their berth in the 2022 World Cup finals.

The third-placed finishers from both the groups will meet in a knockout game and the winner will advance to the continental play-offs.

The best third-placed team from each continent will vie for the remaining berths after going through a grueling round of a series of play-offs.

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