UAE players attend a practice session.
Mohammad Abdullah, Senior Sports Reporter
The UAE will face a tough challenge of overcoming South Korea’s test in their bid to seal a playoff berth via a best third place finish in Dubai on Tuesday.
The hosts, who were comfortably sitting in the third spot with a four-point lead over their nearest rivals Iraq, spurned a golden chance and failed to capitalize on the opportunity to extend it and consolidate their position in the standings.
The Whites are still in the third spot with nine points. But prior to the last round, they were leading Lebanon, Iraq and Syria by 4, 4 and 7 points and their chances for a best third finisher in the group were looking rather rosier.
The two upsets in the last round left the door ajar for three teams. Syria defeated Lebanon by three goals to post their first win of the campaign and dented Lebanon’s chances. The defeat of Lebanon threw opened the door for a down and dejected Iraq. Now Iraq needed to win against the UAE to revive their almost dead campaign and they did it successfully. UAE’s loss against Iraq changed the whole equation. Had the UAE defeated Iraq, they would have taken unassailable lead.
The UAE had sacked coach Bert van Marwijk and named Rodolfo Arruabarrena as his replacement in the middle of the campaign. But the change of the coach did not bear a positive result for the UAE. Arruabarrena got his campaign off to a losing start and must be feeling the heat to deliver a victory in his second game.
There were many absentees in his first match. Frontline players like Ali Khasief, Fabio De Lima and Sebastián Tagliabue to name a few did not feature for the UAE in the Iraq clash.
Iraq, who were fifth with only five points, leapfrogged Lebanon to the fourth spot to put the pressure on the UAE. The UAE are still leading by one point but they need an out-right victory against South Korea to avoid the jitters of depending on the results of the other teams for a playoff berth.
Anything less than a victory will put the UAE’s qualification chances in peril and they will have to wait for the result of Iraq and Lebanon matches.
If the UAE are held to a draw and Iraq win, the latter will go through but if both the teams play a draw in their respective matches or lose them the UAE will advance on the point difference.
In case, if the UAE lose and Iraq manage to salvage a draw then they will come at par with the UAE on points, and Iraq will seal the playoff place, because they played a draw in their away match and defeated the UAE in home game. Though there home match was shifted to Riyadh.
If UAE fail to procure a victory against South Korea, they will also have to wait for the result of Lebanon match. Should both the UAE and Iraq lose and Lebanon win then there will be a two-way tie, which will put Lebanon and UAE at par scores and the result of away match and goal difference will come into play.
Lebanon are mathematically still in the contention but they will need to upset Iran to convert their qualification dreams into reality. Iran who have never lost against them. This will be Iran’s third consecutive appearance at the footballing spectacle.
But Iraq have an easy match against the bottom side Syria and they pose a real threat can derail a the UAE’s stuttering campaign.
Korea have already qualified for the showpiece event and are sitting at the top of the group with 26 points. They are on a 23 games unbeaten streak. South Korea coach Paulo Bento vowed no slip-ups against the UAE in their last game, looking to extend it further.
“We will field our best playing 11 against the UAE. We have already qualified for the Qatar extravaganza and also defeated Iran in our last match to go on the top of the group but that does not mean that we will not play to our full potential,” said Bento.
“After the victory against Iran, we have come to the top of the group and I will like to maintain the winning momentum and go into the showpiece event on the back of a victory in our last match,” he added.
Both Iran and the South Korea have qualified for the World Cup and are occupying second and the first positions respectively with 22 and 23 points, having played nine games each.A total of 36 teams from Asian continents have been divided into six groups of six each. The top two teams from each group automatically qualify for the World Cup. The third best finish teams from each group will play in the playoffs for a place in the World Cup finals.
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