Ali Ibrahim, the UAE's Under 17 coach, is banking on his team's grit to get a positive result against the United States tonight and book a spot in the second round of the World Cup in Nigeria. After winning the opening game against Malawi 2-0, the Emirates crashed to a 3-1 defeat against the eight-time European champions Spain in the second Group E game on Thursday night. That means that the winner of tonight's match will be guaranteed a place in the second round.
With the USA level with the UAE on points (3) and goal difference (0), a draw would see Ibrahim's side go through as the second-placed team by virtue of having scored more goals, three to the USA's two. The Americans would then be left to hope they were one of the four best third-placed teams from the six groups. Ibrahim, however, does not like the idea of playing for a draw. "There is no alternative for us, but to win this match," he said.
"A draw would also be enough to take us into the second round, but we would like to avoid all the calculations that would come with a defeat and therefore finishing third in the group. Looking at the other groups, the race is still wide open and there are no guarantees. "So we have to think about nothing else but winning this game." After the loss to Spain, Ibrahim has spent his time watching videos of the USA's two matches - the 2-1 loss to Spain and the 1-0 win over Malawi - to analyse their tactics.
"We have our plans for the US," he said. "After conceding two goals in the first-half against Spain, I used the second session to work on our strategies against the Americans. "I think we did really well in the second half against Spain after a poor start. The players seemed to be in awe of the team and made too many individual errors. "We have tried to work on that, and I am confident that, against the US, you will see the team who played the second half against Spain and not the first."
Ibrahim's optimism is shared by Yousuf Abdullah, the general secretary of the UAE Football Association. "One point and we'll finish second, but I think three points are possible," he said. "We have a good chance, but the most important thing is that the team is playing at a higher level than they have played before. They are young and they are improving. I am happy with their performances - I hope they qualify."