: UAE players attend a training session ahead of their FIFA Arab Cup match against Syria
Gulf Today, Staff Reporter
One year before the start of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, 16 Arab nations — including 10 AFC members — descend on Qatar to compete for the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 title over the next three weeks, with plenty of action to look forward to.
The first all-Arab competition to be organised by FIFA, it forms part of the preparations for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
Six of the eight stadiums that will host next year’s big event being used for the FIFA Arab Cup: Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Al Janoub Stadium, Al Bayt Stadium, Ras Abu Aboud Stadium, Al Thumama Stadium, and Education City Stadium.
Seven one-legged play-off qualifiers took place in Qatar in June, seeing Sudan, Oman, Jordan, Mauritania, Lebanon, Palestine and Bahrain qualify to the Finals to join the hosts Qatar and the eight other top-ranked teams from the region; namely, Iraq, Tunisia, the UAE, Algeria, Syria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
The 16 teams are distributed into four groups, with the top-two of each advancing to the quarter-finals. The hosts face Bahrain in the opening match on Tuesday in Al Bayt Stadium.
UAE, who have been drawn in Group B, will start their campaign against Syria on Tuesday. Later, they will face Mauritania and Tunisia.
Coach Bert van Marwijk knows all about the wonders of tournament football. After all, the Dutchman competed on the biggest stage – and in the biggest match – of them all, and still describes leading his native country to the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final as “my best experience in football”.
The challenge of enabling his players to shine is one that Van Marwijk relishes nonetheless, and experiences from 2010 and two decades-plus of top-level coaching will shape his approach to the upcoming FIFA Arab Cup.
His side arrived at the tournament fresh from a recent 1-0 win in Lebanon that revived their FIFA World Cup qualifying hopes and, as the 69-year-old explained, they kick off in Qatar tomorrow with the trophy firmly in their sights.
It’s been a busy time for the team, with four huge World Cup qualifiers across October and November.
On being asked if the FIFA Arab Cup is a welcome challenge given that backdrop, Van Marwijk said: “I think it’s good for us because we’re still in the middle of developing a team. It’s also good for the players who’ll be competing because it’s in the country, and the stadiums, where the World Cup will take place next year.
“That makes it a very good test for them. I already had the experience of a tournament in Qatar last year (at the Gulf Cup) and I know that the weather conditions will be good and that the standard of the stadiums and pitches is very high. That’s important. We’ve just come from playing a qualifier on a pitch that was tough to play good football on, and it changes the game,” he told Fifa.com in an interview.
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