UAE treating East Timor World Cup qualifier clash ‘like a final’

Published November 12th, 2015 - 07:56 GMT

A dispiriting 2-1 defeat away to Saudi Arabia in September was a grievous blow to the UAE’s ambitions of qualifying for only their second Fifa World Cup, but the capricious nature of football on Monday revived their fortunes.

The Saudis, the Asian zone Group A leaders, unexpectedly dropped their first points of their Russia 2018 qualifying campaign in a 0-0 draw away to Palestine in Jordan.

The UAE may be six points behind Bert van Marwijk’s men in second place, but Thursday’s home match with East Timor is their game in hand and they still have to host the Saudis.

UAE coach Mahdi Ali and defender Esmail Ahmad insisted on Wednesday that the Saudi’s slip-up was of no concern, but their proclamations of intent betrayed their desperation to seize the lifeline afforded them.

Speaking at Al Jazira’s Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium, the venue for the 6.15pm encounter with Group A’s bottom side, Ahmad said: “It’s a very important match, like a final. We have been working very hard and we would like to give a good performance and get a good result for our fans and the nation.

“We are focusing on ourselves and not the Saudi Arabia result.”

Ali, when asked whether he felt under even more pressure to win after Saudi Arabia’s draw, said: “Regarding Saudi Arabia and Palestine, I have said before this doesn’t affect us. We have four games left and we have to win all four.

“If we win all four, we can qualify. We have to focus on the game tomorrow, though.”

Ahmad, the Al Ain centre-back, added that he and his teammates were determined to rectify mistakes made in Saudi.

“We faced some obstacles and were not 100 per cent,” he said. “We are promising improvement in the coming four games.”

The Whites will welcome back their Al Ahli contingent, who missed last Thursday’s 5-1 home friendly thrashing of Turkmenistan as they were preparing for Saturday’s first leg of the Asian Champions League final against Guangzhou Evergrande.

But they will be without their orchestrator-in-chief, Omar Abdul Rahman, who will serve a one-match suspension, and the injured Al Jazira midfielder Khamis Esmail.

Could the returning Al Ahli players be too exhausted to give their best, given their recent domestic and continental exertions?

Ali replied: “I don’t put out a starting team thinking of the Al Ahli players, I put out whoever is ready.”

Of the match against opponents ranked 95 places below them in the Fifa rankings, he added: “We need all three points tomorrow and are confident of getting them. We need all our fans here.”

After Thursday’s match, the UAE play Malaysia away on Tuesday, opponents they thrashed 10-0 at home in September for their second-highest victory.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, are away to East Timor.

The UAE conclude their campaign at home to Palestine on March 24 and Saudi Arabia on March 29.

If the UAE pick up all 12 points from their four final matches and the Saudis win two of their three games, both sides would have 19 points and the group winners would be decided on goal difference.

Saudi Arabia lead that race by a difference of 12 goals to 10, while the UAE remain outside the four best runners-up spots, which would ensure progression with the section winners.

If the UAE progress, a third qualifying group would await them in their quest to reach only their second World Cup after Italia ’90.

That can wait, however.

East Timor are the immediate priority for Ali and his team of indomitable lions, who seem well and truly up for the fight.

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