AL AIN // The last time the UAE national team played India they cruised to a five-goal victory in Dubai. In their last match, they were equally emphatic, drubbing Lebanon 7-2, with Theyab Awana back-heeling a penalty that has become an internet rage.
Given their current form, the UAE should have few troubles against India tonight when they face-off in the first leg of a 2014 World Cup qualifier in Al Ain, but coach Srecko Katanec has cautioned his team against complacency, citing the quarter-final exits of Brazil and host Argentina in the Copa America.
"We've got to respect India and we've got to respect football," Katanec said. "If you don't give 100 per cent in a match then you are in trouble. Look at what happened to Brazil and Argentina in the Copa America; that should be an example to our team."
India are ranked No 147, 37 places lower than the UAE in the world rankings, but they arrived in Al Ain following a confidence-boosting 2-1 win over Qatar, the ninth-best team in Asia, on Sunday in Doha.
Katanec watched them during their Asian Cup campaign, when India lost 4-0 to Australia, 5-2 against Bahrain and 4-1 to South Korea. The visitors, however, are a different side to the one that was drubbed in January, with the India national, Armando Colaco, taking over as coach from the Englishman, Bob Houghton, and bringing in several junior players to replace some of the most senior.
Katanec expects India to be a tough opponent over both the legs.
"This result [against Qatar] is certainly good for them," the UAE coach said. "If India can beat Qatar, it means they have quality, but they will also have weak points, just like we have our strengths and weaknesses.
"So we have to respect them and remember that every game starts from 0-0. We are certainly the better team, but we need to show that on the field."
Katanec would be hoping the UAE will prove just that on the pitch tonight and in the same emphatic fashion as they did last November. A big win here would safeguard against any slips in the second leg, scheduled for Thursday in Delhi.
In the 2002 World Cup qualifiers, India had stunned UAE 1-0 in their home match at Bangalore and battled hard in a 1-0 defeat in the reverse fixture. "I am not expecting an easy match," Katanec said. "We know what we have to do. There will be some people who think this is an easy game, but I am not one of them.
"I expect them to come out aggressively, stay compact and take their chances in attack.
"I have seen them attack with many players and then defend with everyone behind. So it will be a good challenge, but with the quality we have, we should be able to overcome them."
The UAE will also have their fans behind them and the advantage of playing at home. The heat and humidity will challenge the India team's resolve, and Yousef Jaber, the Baniyas wing back, is confident they will make their advantage count.
"We have our plans, and we should concentrate on ourselves and not on the other team," he said. "We are playing at home, so our focus will be on getting a good result and making our fans happy."
The UAE fans and many others around the globe also will be waiting to see if Awana makes it to the starting line-up after his audacious penalty against Lebanon.
Katanec was not pleased with his antic and pulled the midfielder out of the game two minutes later.
"I don't think he planned for it because you cannot know if you will get a penalty in a game," Katanec said.
"But he is young and when you are this age, you do many stupid things.
"Some say it was wrong and some say it was not, but for me it was not OK. You have to show respect. There is a God looking at us from above and you never know when things start going bad for you.
"I have spent a lot of years in football and have seen many funny things, but this was certainly not funny. I pulled him out and that was his punishment. He is still in the team, but we will see if he plays or not."