With the first game of their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign now barely two weeks away, the national team face the 18-time Romania champions Dinamo Bucharest in a friendly match in Austria tonight.
The UAE play India home and away – on July 23 in Al Ain and July 28 in Delhi – to determine which side will advance to the final 20 among Asian Football Confederation sides attempting to win their way to Brazil 2014. The UAE are trying to reach the World Cup finals for the first time since 1990.
Srecko Katanec, the coach, said he expects a strong challenge by India despite a 5-0 victory over them in a friendly in November ahead of the Asian Cup.
“India seem easy on paper, but they are a serious team,” the Slovenian said. “We must be serious, too.”
Abdullah Mousa, the winger from Al Jazira, is also concerned. “It would be very risky to underestimate the strength of our opponents,” he told the Football Association website.
The UAE defeated SV Grodig, the second division Austrian side, 3-2 in the first friendly played in the cool climate of the Alps.
Amer Abdulrahman, Mohammed Al Shehhi and Ismail Al Hammadi scored for the UAE.
Dinamo Bucharest were sixth in Romania’s Liga 1 last season. Only Steaua Bucharest, with 23, have won more Romanian titles than Dinamo’s 18.
On Sunday, the UAE face FC Dynamo Moscow, who are currently third in the Russian league.
One week later, on July 17, the UAE play host to Lebanon in an international friendly at Al Ain.
Lebanon face Bangladesh on July 23 and 28 in World Cup qualifying.
Katenec has criticised the Asian Football Confederation’s decision to play World Cup qualifying matches in the height of summer. "It is a little bit crazy to play football [in the UAE] in July,” he said. “The conditions will be very difficult.”
Tonight, the team may be without Subait Khater, the veteran midfielder, who is nursing an injury.
Khater, an Al Jazira stalwart, declared he was finished with international football after the Asian Cup, but has since changed his mind.
Several members of the Under 23 team, who ousted North Korea 2-1 on aggregate in the first round of London 2012 Olympic qualifying last month, are pushing for places in the national team first XI.
Hamdan Al Kamali, the central defender, Ahmed Khalil, the striker and Abdulrahman, the midfielder, are already there, and they could be joined by midfielders Omar Abdulrahman and Theyab Awana.
The Emiratis reached the final stage of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, but finished bottom in their five-team group without winning a game.