The UAE line up against Iran knowing that nothing but a win will be good enough to keep alive their slim chance of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.
Bold Bathenay is still a believer
DUBAI // The UAE line up against Iran here tonight knowing that nothing but a win will be good enough to keep alive their slim chance of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The form book is against Dominique Bathenay's men. They have not won since beating Kuwait 3-2 in June, while Iran have not tasted defeat in eight qualifying games. Defeat at Al Nasr will mean the end of the UAE's journey with four games still remaining.
History is also against the UAE; they have never beaten Iran. They have lost seven of the nine games failing to score one goal. "Yes, I am aware of those statistics," said Bathenay. "But it just takes one game to change that." The UAE captain Abdulraheem Jumaa was also full of optimism: "We hope we will be the first UAE team to beat Iran," he said. "We have worked hard for this game and we are confident of doing that." The Iranians, however, are not too concerned about the statistics and are instead focused on continuing their domination of the UAE.
"In football, every game is different," said their assistant coach Human Afazeli. "It's a fresh 90 minutes and history doesn't count; it will not win you matches. Having said that, the records will definitely give us a psychological advantage and I believe the team we have at the moment is capable of upholding that record." Iran share the top spot in Group Two of qualifying. The UAE are still to win a point.
"It is a crucial game for the UAE and an important one for us as well," said Afazeli. "If the UAE win, they can stay in touch with the top of the table. "For us, a win would be a big step towards booking our place for South Africa. So I assume it is going to be an exciting game between two quality teams." The last two games between the UAE and Iran, in the previous round of qualifying, have been closely contested affairs with the UAE holding the hosts to a goalless draw in Tehran and losing 1-0 at home in the return game.
Afazeli added: "We consider the UAE as one of the top sides in Asia and they have shown that in the previous games. "I think we are stronger team than the one who played the UAE before, but we also know that the UAE are well prepared. I believe this game will be wonderful to watch." Just a "wonderful" match will, however, not satisfy Bathenay and the UAE fans. Three points is the only thing that the Frenchman wants from the game and he would not mind "winning ugly".
"This is our last chance," said Bathenay. "The players have shown a lot of commitment. They are all very good players and the results in the last three games don't do justice to their talent. "We know that we are playing against a very big team and we are not the favourites. But we will give our best and try to win the game, because it is really important for us. That is the only result that matters."