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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Ahmed Khalil: UAE will 'give everything' against Iraq in final push to reach 2018 World Cup

Chances of reaching Russia may be slim but the Al Jazira striker insists the national team will fight to the very end.

Ahmed Khalil, second left, scored the winning goal for the UAE against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to keep alive their 2018 World Cup hopes. Giuseppe Cacace / AFP
Ahmed Khalil, second left, scored the winning goal for the UAE against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to keep alive their 2018 World Cup hopes. Giuseppe Cacace / AFP

Ahmed Khalil says the UAE can overcome a number of key absentees against Iraq on Tuesday as they prepare to give one final push towards qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

The national team defeated Saudi Arabia last week to retain faint hopes of reaching Russia next summer, but go into their final fixture in Jordan knowing only a victory and an unlikely set of permutations will realise their dream.

The UAE are currently fourth in Group B, three points off both Australia in the play-off place and Saudi Arabia in second. With Japan having won the group last week, the Saudis occupy the one remaining automatic qualification spot.

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Thus, the UAE need to defeat Iraq at the Amman International Stadium and hope for either Australia or Saudi Arabia to lose against Thailand and Japan, respectively, and for a considerable turn around in goal difference. At present, the UAE are six goals worse off than Australia and eight worse off than Saudi Arabia.

However, Edgardo Bauza's side are looking to build on last week’s morale-boosting 2-1 win at home to the Saudis – the UAE’s first triumph against their Gulf rivals in 10 years. Khalil scored in that match, but victory came at a cost: Mahmoud Khamis was sent off and therefore misses the Iraq encounter, while Ali Mabkhout – the game's other goalscorer – and midfielder Khamis Esmail are suspended, too.

The UAE are also missing through injury playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, the current Asian player of the year, and first-choice centre-back Ismail Ahmed.

Given the lengthy list of players on the sidelines, Khalil understands the size of the task facing the UAE. Yet the Al Jazira striker says the national team remain committed to giving themselves every chance to make what would be only the country's second appearance at a World Cup.

“I cannot say we’ll qualify, but we’ll do what we do every time - give everything,” Khalil said. “We need to win, we need to play well in a very hard situation. And we hope sometimes that God gives you a good chance and good luck and that we can qualify. We know we’re in a difficult situation, but we’ll do the same as always and give our best.

“The team is the most important, not if Omar scores or I score. Nothing changes, everybody has to play with a good heart and know what they do on the pitch. It’s easy when you can do it like that.

“The most important thing is we can change, we can come back in our situation. As I have said before, nothing is impossible. We don’t know what happens. We have to do what we did before and I hope that God gives us what we need.”

Khalil was one of the standouts against the Saudis at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, scoring with a superb strike from range just before the hour to put the hosts 2-1 up and eventually win the game.

It lifted Khalil joint-top of the scoring charts for the entire 2018 World Cup qualification. He sits now alongside Saudi’s Mohammed Al Sahlawi on 16 goals, but says the opportunity to finish the campaign as the competition’s lead marksman is not a priority.

“This is because of the other players, my teammates,” Khalil said. “It’s not just me on the pitch. But every time I’m there I do everything for the team, for the UAE. God put me in this situation and I have to keep in it and have to continue.

“I know everybody wants to be a good player, to be top scorer. But for me, I want to qualify, not be the top scorer. Always, the team is the most important."