Al AIN // Srecko Katanec suggested that all World Cup qualifying games carry equal weight, but a victory by the national team over Kuwait tonight would be a matter of no small gravity in advancing to Brazil 2014.
With the powerful South Korea widely conceded the top spot in the four-team Group B, and Lebanon generally reckoned last, Kuwait and the UAE would seem to be in competition for the No 2 spot in Group B in the third round of Asian Football Confederation (AFC) competition, and only the top two advance to the final round of group play.
Taking three points at Kuwait's expense at Tahnoon bin Mohammed Stadium in Al Ain tonight would produce a significant opening salvo for the UAE; meantime, a defeat, Kefah Al Kaabi, the MBC pundit, suggested, "would be a catastrophe".
Katanec does not view the first game of six as a make-or-break proposition.
"I respect very much the Kuwait team," Katanec said yesterday. "They have played a lot with the same players together."
However, he added: "In today's football, the weaker teams, on paper, can create trouble, so every game is important.
"I would rather lose this game if we could win the other five. If we win this one but lose the next five, we will be out. So every game is important and every game must be taken seriously."
Kuwait certainly have the attention of Katanec and his team, who are seeking to be the first UAE national side to reach the World Cup finals since 1990.
The Kuwaitis won the Gulf Cup last December, defeating Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the final courtesy of a Waleed Jumah goal, and again defeated the Saudis in the West Asia Championships in Jordan in July.
Since the start of 2009, Kuwait have climbed 32 spots in the Fifa world rankings to No 95. The UAE are 108.
"Sure, our team the past two years has gotten very good results," said Goran Tufegdzic, Kuwait's Serbian coach. "It's a big accomplishment for our players, and we hope it can continue."
Tufegdzic said that several members of Kuwait's first team, including forward Fahad Al Ebrahim, will not be available for tonight's match, but Katanec dismissed the idea of a weakened Kuwait side.
"They can speak about injured players, but I won't," he said. "They are missing No 11 [Al Ebrahim], but all the key players for them, all of them will be here. They are a full team, they are a good team and we must respect them.
"They are very, very fast, and they can punish you in the counterattack, and they have played many years together."
He mentioned by number the midfielder Fahad Al Enezi, and the attacking players Jumah and Bader Al Mutwa, Kuwait's all-time leading scorer, as players who merit special attention.
The UAE are optimistic about their chances of making a strong push for a berth in Brazil. The side is a blend of experience and youth, with Subait Khater, the captain, and the goalkeeper Majed Naser providing the former and the striker Ahmed Khalil, the playmaker Amer Abdulrahman and the defender Hamdan Al Kamali representing the latter.
As always, the national team's fate will hinge on the efficiency of their attack. They failed to score in three matches in the Asian Cup last January and in three of four games in the Gulf Cup the previous month.
Khalil scored twice last week in a friendly against Qatar and remains the best scoring option, but Mohammed Al Shehhi and Ismail Al Hammadi are threats in midfield, and the tall Al Kamali offers a target at set pieces.
Katanec refused to talk about injuries, but followers of the national team realise that playing without Ismail Matar, the forward, and the midfielder Omar Abdulrahman, both out after knee surgery, makes the UAE's job more difficult.
They will play in a 4-4-2 formation, with Naser likely in goal; Khalid Sabeel, Yousuf Jaber, Walid Abbas and Al Kamali across the back; Ali Al Wehaibi, Al Shehhi, Khater and Al Hammadi in midfield, and Amer Abdulrahman and Khalil up top.
"Everything is OK," Katanec said. "All the players are ready for the start, and we want to give it the best we can."