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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Omar Abdulrahman a major doubt for UAE's crucial World Cup double-header

UAE manager Edgardo Bauza to assess Al Ain playmaker's ankle injury after Monday's final training session ahead of matches against Saudi Arabia and Iraq

Al Ain captain Omar Abdulrahman during the Asian Champions League quarter-final first leg against Al Hilal at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Monday, August 21, 2017. Courtesy Al Ain FC
Al Ain captain Omar Abdulrahman during the Asian Champions League quarter-final first leg against Al Hilal at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Monday, August 21, 2017. Courtesy Al Ain FC

The UAE have suffered a potentially huge blow ahead of Tuesday’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia with playmaker Omar Abdulrahman struggling to overcome an ankle injury.

The Al Ain captain, the national team’s standout star, is carrying an ankle knock sustained before last week’s Asian Champions League encounter against Al Hilal and will not be fit in time.

The UAE take on Saudi Arabia at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in their penultimate Group B assignment, then travel to Jordan to face Iraq on September 5. Abdulrahman, the reigning Asian Player of the Year, struggling to be fit for both.

Edgardo Bauza, the national team manager, confirmed the injury news but said he will assess Abdulrahman's chances for the Saudi match after Monday's final training session.

Should he be ruled out, Abdulrahman’s absence would represent a significant knock to the UAE’s albeit faint chances of making next summer’s World Cup. With two matches remaining, Bauza’s side lie fourth in the group, six points off the play-off spot.

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The UAE need to therefore win both games and hope for other results to go their way and for a huge swing in goal difference. The country has only once before competed at a World Cup, in 1990.

Abdulrahman, 25, has been a permanent fixture for the UAE in this final round of qualification for Russia 2018. Last Monday, he was Al Ain’s main creative force in the Champions League quarter-final first leg at home to Hilal, despite nursing an injury. The match finished 0-0.

Should Abdulrahman not make the UAE’s double-header, as is expected, it is thought he will have recovered fully in time for the Champions League second leg in Riyadh on September 11.

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It does leave Bauza with a selection headache, though. The Argentine, whose tenure began in June with the damaging 1-1 draw against bottom side Thailand in Bangkok, will have to tweak his line-up for the Saudi match and possibly the team’s formation.

Khalfan Mubarak, the emerging Al Jazira playmaker, would have been the most obvious replacement for Abdulrahman, however he was not named in Bauza’s squad for the double-header.