Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

One win and one defeat: The talking points from UAE's mixed fortunes in World Cup qualifying

Bert van Marwijk's side have slipped from top spot in their group, and there are some points that need tackling

The UAE suffered their first defeat of World Cup qualification with a 2-1 loss to Thailand near Bangkok on Tuesday. We look at the main talking points from the past five days, which began with a 5-0 victory against Indonesia in Dubai.

Amoory needs game-time

After his 16 minutes in last month’s Group G opener against Malaysia, Omar Abdulrahman was given slightly longer against Indonesia on Thursday and then began the match in Rangsit – his first start for the national team in 364 days. The playmaker, undoubtedly the team’s star turn, shone against Indonesia, dictating the tempo, creating opportunities. That should have been expected, given his opponents offered little resistance: Indonesia are ranked 101 places below the UAE. However, against a dynamic Thailand, Amoory struggled. There were glimpses of his talent, but he remains some way from his best. Before Indonesia, manager Bert van Marwijk said he wished Abdulrahman featured more this season for new club Al Jazira. He has started one of eight matches. Abdulrahman’s third serious knee injury, sustained 12 months ago, could be his most difficult to overcome. His ability is clear; now he needs game-time to recover his rhythm and rank as one of Asia’s finest.

Leadership at the back required

Bert van Marwijk’s remit was to rebuild. An ageing UAE had become prosaic and predictable, and fresh blood was required. To his credit, he has placed significant trust in youth already: against Indonesia, as it was in Malaysia, four of the starting line-up were 23 and under. Khalil Ibrahim, meanwhile, represented another newbie, and on Thursday marked his second competitive cap with a debut goal. At the centre of defence, Khalifa Al Hammadi and Mohammed Al Attas, 20 and 22 respectively, have had contrasting fortunes: Al Hammadi has settled following an understandably shaky start, but Al Attas still seems suspect. For that, Van Marwijk should consider a change, with Hamdan Al Kamali vastly experienced and back from injury, Shaheen Abdulrahman captain at domestic champions Sharjah and much expected of Mohammed Al Shaker since his summer transfer to Al Ain. Full-back, too, is a concern, with the UAE conceding twice from crosses in Thailand - just as they did against Malaysia.

Mabkhout remains a premier predator

Ali Mabkhout struck a hat-trick against Indonesia at Al Maktoum Stadium, lifting himself above Adnan Al Talyani as the country’s all-time leading scorer. A 54th international goal broke a 22-year record. The UAE striker continued on Tuesday, heading home the equaliser on the stroke of half-time. It carried him to six goals in three qualifiers thus far – Mabkhout scored both in last month’s 2-1 win against Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur – cementing his status as the UAE’s go-to marksman. However, his supply line could still be better. Most certainly, Mabkhout will benefit from Abdulrahman getting back up to full speed; the pair have long had a fantastic understanding, on and off the pitch. The UAE need more, though, from those around their frontman. That should come with time, given Ali Saleh, Ibrahim and Jassim Yaqoub made their competitive debuts against Malaysia. The return of injured midfielders Khalfan Mubarak and Rayan Yaslam would help too.

Khalil must stay fit

Mabkhout would benefit from someone to share the goalscoring burden. In that regard, Ahmed Khalil’s availability this past week has been a boost, although the Shabab Al Ahli striker remains far from full fitness. He was given 13 minutes against Indonesia and 18 in Thailand. Yet Khalil’s contribution could have been greater had he finished presentable chances in both matches: he fired wide late on in Dubai, then missed a golden opportunity to salvage a draw in injury time on Tuesday. If those can be put down to rust, then like Abdulrahman, the UAE will hope Khalil can regain his robustness. For some time a guarantor of important goals, his output has receded together with time on the pitch. This season, he has made only four substitute appearances for his club. Nevertheless, Khalil remains a totemic figure with the national team, typically captain, usually the man to step up when needed. Maintaining fitness, though, continues to be a problem.

Improvement necessary for Vietnam

Defeat on Tuesday prompted a slip from the summit. Heading into the qualifier at the top of Group G, the UAE have fallen to third, although they trail leaders Thailand and second-placed Vietnam by a solitary point. That said, next month’s clash against Vietnam in Hanoi now seems pivotal to the campaign. The Southeast Asians are undefeated so far and much improved, highlighted by their run to the Asian Cup quarter-finals earlier this year. Thus, the UAE have to be better if they are to glean anything from the game. Although still early in qualification, defeat would increase considerably the pressure; only the group winners are guaranteed to progress to the third round. As mentioned, Van Marwijk will hope to be able to rely upon a number of important players, while he will have more time to shape his side. Outplayed by a Thai team missing its two most influential players, the UAE must rebound, then respond in Vietnam.

Updated: October 16, 2019 02:37 PM

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