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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

A look at how UAE have fared in their road to Russia

John McAuley prepares a timeline of the UAE's 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

UAE not meet during the international break. UAE FA
UAE not meet during the international break. UAE FA

The UAE reached the third and final round of World Cup qualification by finishing runners-up to Saudi Arabia in Group A last year. As such, they were drawn in Group B alongside the Saudis again, Asian champions Australia, five-time World Cup participants Japan, and Iraq and Thailand.

September 1: Japan 1-2 UAE

The UAE secured arguably their greatest victory on foreign soil by defeating the Asian heavyweights in Saitama. Ahmed Khalil scored a brilliant free-kick and a ‘Panenka’ penalty. Then the UAE held on. They were off to a flier.

Also read: Five things we learnt about the UAE’s 2-1 win in Japan

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September 6: UAE 0-1 Australia

The hosts were brought back down to Earth with a last-gasp defeat on an energy-sapping evening in Abu Dhabi. Substitute Tim Cahill grabbed the winner at the death.

Also read: Five takeaways from UAE’s 1-0 defeat to Australia

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October 6: UAE 3-1 Thailand

What should have been a routine victory was not without its problems. Ali Mabkhout scored twice but then Thailand halved the deficit. A tense and tight finish ensued, before Khalil made safe the points in injury time.

Also read: Reactions following UAE's win

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October 11: Saudi Arabia 3-0 UAE

The UAE travelled to Jeddah for what was billed a group-defining encounter. They departed badly beaten, losing convincingly to a three-goal, 19-minute blitz from the Saudis.

Also read: Mahdi Ali says he is to blame for defeat

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Also from John McAuley:

November 15: UAE 2-0 Iraq

With manager Mahdi Ali’s job reportedly on the line, the UAE bounced back with a much-needed win courtesy of goals from Khalil and Ismail Matar. Their World Cup bid was back on track.

Also read: Matar says UAE have retaken control of World Cup destiny

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March 23: UAE 0-2 Japan

Looking to secure an unlikely double against Japan, the UAE were comfortably second best in Al Ain, outdone by early goals in each half. The pressure mounted on Mahdi Ali, with fans calling for his resignation.

Also read: Mahdi Ali will not resign despite defeat

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March 28: Australia 2-0 UAE

Mahdi Ali’s departure was confirmed post-match, after the UAE had been beaten easily by a robust and resolute Australia in Sydney. The Emirati’s four-year tenure with the senior team was over.

Also read: Mahdi Ali can be proud of how far he has taken UAE football

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June 13: Thailand 1-1 UAE

Edgardo Bauza’s first competitive match in charge ended in disappointment. The UAE needed Ali Mabkhout’s injury-time strike to snatch a draw, which ultimately felt like defeat. The UAE were all but out.

Also read: Bauza needs more from Khalil, and Abdulrahman in need of support

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August 29: UAE 2-1 Saudi Arabia

Then they clung to that World Cup dream. The UAE rebounded from going a goal down, turning around the game through top-class finishes from Mabkhout and Khalil. It was a first win against the Saudis since 2007.

Also read: Bauza lauds UAE players' character but plays down cup chances

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Also read: Bauza undeterred even as depleted UAE take on Iraq in must-win World Cup qualifier