2022 World Cup qualifiers: Omar Abdulrahman gives UAE fitness boost ahead of Malaysia match
The playmaker says he is fit and ready to be called upon for Bert van Marwijk's first game in charge on Tuesday
Bert van Marwijk is confident the UAE can kick-start their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with a positive result in an albeit testing opener against Malaysia, with the national team boosted by Omar Abdulrahman declaring himself fit for selection.
Appointed in March, Van Marwijk takes charge of the side in a first competitive fixture when they meet Malaysia at the Bukit Jalil Nation Stadium on Tuesday, as the road to Qatar 2022 begins in earnest.
Malaysia opened their campaign last Thursday with a 3-2 victory secured in injury time in Indonesia. Only the top team in Group G, which also contains Thailand and Vietnam, are guaranteed to progress to the third stage of qualification.
The UAE have spent the past two weeks preparing for the match, first during a camp in Bahrain before moving last week to Malaysia.
Speaking to the media on Monday, Van Marwijk said he is happy with the time spent getting to know better the players.
“I like it, but maybe you have to ask the players if they like it,” the Dutchman said. “I don’t know the team very long: we had a training camp in July in Austria, not with the same squad - a lot of players, but not the same. So the last two weeks we were really working together.
“Everything is new. I am new for them and the other way around. But we worked very well and I like to work with them. You have to ask them if they have the same idea.”
Van Marwijk replaced Alberto Zaccheroni following the UAE’s disappointing exit from the Asian Cup, on home soil in January, at the semi-final stage. The former Netherlands manager has been charged with guiding the national team to a first World Cup since the country’s only appearance in 1990.
He led Saudi Arabia to the finals last summer, although left his post before the tournament, going on to manage Australia in Russia.
“When you are the coach of a national team the biggest problem is always that you don’t have the time to work together with your team,” Van Marwijk said. “It’s not the same as your club.
“Now we have worked together for two weeks, so I’m very happy. We don’t have more time, but for me this is enough to prepare for this game. We did the maximum for this game.”
Asked about the threat posed by Malaysia, Van Marwijk said: “They have confidence. We have analysed them very well; we were also in Indonesia. They put a lot of energy into the game and they play at a very high tempo. They have very technical, fast players.
“We have to be very concentrated and have patience. We must have a lot of discipline. I’ve worked with [the players] for a few weeks and I’m also confident in my own team. But it will not be easy.”
The last time the two met in qualifying was in 2015, when the UAE won 10-0 in Abu Dhabi. Van Marwijk, though, believes that will have no bearing on Tuesday.
“Everything that happened before doesn’t count,” he said. “I didn’t think about it for one second.”
The UAE have been buoyed by Omar Abdulrahman’s apparent return to fitness. The playmaker, the 2016 Asian Player of the Year, has not played competitively since last October, when he sustained a serious knee injury while playing for Al Hilal.
Now with Al Jazira, Abdulrahman returned to the UAE squad in Bahrain, featuring for the final 20 minutes in the 5-1 victory against Sri Lanka.
“I’m ready - whenever the coach needs me to be in the game I will be there,” he said. “I’ve played already a friendly game in Bahrain. I hope we’re going to we get the three points. We - the players, the technical staff and administration staff - all know exactly the importance of this phase of qualifiers.”
About Van Marwijk, Abdulrahman said: “The coach is already known to everybody. We played against him in a previous phase, when we played Saudi Arabia. Now he’s focusing on young players, good players, from the lower generations, which is something good.
“We have to take all these qualifiers step-by-step, not only the whole phase, but to focus on the Malaysia game first. This is the most important for us.”
Updated: September 9, 2019 03:06 PM