Bert Van Marwijk, UAE national team coach, addresses his players during training ahead of their Tuesday match against Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.
Mohammad Abdullah, Staff Reporter
A confident UAE are set to embark on their journey for the World Cup 2022 and Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers when they take on southeast-Asian rival Malaysia in an away match at Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.
UAE have been drawn with Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand in the Group G for the joint qualifiers for the two showpiece events.
The Whites are the favourites to not only advance but win Group G as they attempt to seal FIFA World Cup qualification for only the second time by emulating the success of the 1992 team.
Bert Van Marwijk, who guided Australia at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, has been entrusted with the task of steering the team to the 2022 World Cup.
He expressed his delight with the performance of the team in the friendlies and the time that he has spent with team helped him getting to know them better.
The UAE have already set the tone for the qualifiers campaign by beating Sri Lanka and Dominican Republic in the friendly matches before leaving for Malaysia.
“I like it, but maybe you have to ask the players if they like it,” the Dutchman said, referring to the training camp that the team had.
“I don’t know the team for too long during the earlier training camp in Australia, we had quite a few different players but the past two weeks have really helped knowing each other better.
“It is a new setup. We are new for each other but I am relishing working with them and hope it is the other way around.”
Van Marwjik succeeded Alberto Zaccheroni, who relinquished his post in late January immediately following the UAE’s exit at the semi-final stage of the Asian Cup despite being the hosts.
“Being the coach of a national team is quite challenging. You don’t get the time to work together with the team like in clubs.
“But I would like to make the best use of the two-week time that I have spent with the team,” he emphasised.
He also downplayed the challenging threat tweeted by Malaysia.
“They are confident after winning their opening game but we are also prepared. We must be patient and disciplined. I worked with the team and I also have confidence in my boys, though it is going to be a tough game,” he explained.
The last time the two met in qualifying was in 2015, when the UAE won 10-0 in Abu Dhabi. Van Marwijk, though, believes that will have no bearing on Tuesday. The Dutchman has the experience UAE need to come on top of their group and the return of prolific striker Omar Abdulrahman from injury is a massive boost for the team. The playmaker says he is fit and ready to play at any place wherever the coach wants him to play. The 2016 Asian Player of the Year has not played competitively since last October, when he sustained a serious knee injury while playing for Saudi Arab’s side Al Hilal.
Now with Al Jazira, Abdulrahman returned to the UAE squad in Bahrain, featuring for the final 20 minutes in the 5-1 victory against Sri Lanka.
“I’m ready –– whenever and wherever the coach wants me to be in the game I will be there,” he said.
“I’ve played already a friendly game in Bahrain. I hope we’re going to get the three points in this crucial match.
Praising the coach, Abdulrahman said: “We already know the coach when we played against his side Saudi Arabia. Now he’s focusing on young talent, good players, from the new generations, which is something good.”
“We have to take all these qualifiers step-by-step, not only the whole phase, but to focus on the Malaysia game first. This is the most important for us.”
In the other Group match, Indonesia face Thailand.
The eight group winners and four best runners-up will advance to the China 2023 Finals and the final round of qualifying for Qatar 2022.
However, should Qatar –– having already qualified as hosts –– win their group, the seven other group winners and five best second-placed sides will advance to the final round of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The same applies should Qatar finish as one of the four best second-placed teams, with the fifth best group runners-up advancing to the third round of the Qualifiers.
The next best 24 teams from the second round of the Asian Qualifiers will compete in a separate competition for the remaining 12 slots in the 24-team AFC Asian Cup China 2023.
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