Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

UAE manager Bert van Marwijk pleased with team's character after recovering from early blow against Malaysia

After falling behind in first minute of opening World Cup 2022 qualifier, Dutchman is relieved and delighted at response

UAE's Ali Saleh, right, battles for possession with Matthew Davies of Malaysia during Tuesday's World Cup 2022 qualifier. AP
UAE's Ali Saleh, right, battles for possession with Matthew Davies of Malaysia during Tuesday's World Cup 2022 qualifier. AP

UAE manager Bert van Marwijk praised his side’s character after they rebounded from an early setback against Malaysia on Tuesday to open their World Cup qualification campaign with a victory.

The national team, playing their first competitive match since the Dutchman was appointed in March, went a goal down inside the first minute at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium, but replied through two goals from Ali Mabkhout – one in either half.

The win in Kuala Lumpur gave the UAE a strong start to Group G, which also contains Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Although ranked almost 100 places by Fifa below the UAE, Malaysia proved dedicated and difficult opponents, especially after beginning their campaign last Thursday with a last-gasp 3-2 triumph in Jakarta.

The hosts went ahead almost immediately through Syafiq Ahmad’s header, and caused the UAE significant problems throughout the first half. However, Mabkhout equalised two minutes before the break with a header of his own, before the Al Jazira striker raced clear on 75 minutes to poke home the winner. Soon after, though, Malaysia struck the post.

The victory therefore left Van Marwijk both relieved and delighted.

“We started very bad, everybody could see that – after 40 seconds, 1-0 – and we were sleeping on the left side and also in the centre,” he said. “We couldn’t take a hold of the game the first half hour. We found it very difficult to keep the ball.

“We were not defending tactically well on the left side. I tried to correct it during the game, but with this public at this stadium it was not easy. Every time they had one man extra on our left side, so we corrected that at the end of the first half. And in the second half we didn’t have that problem any more.

“At the beginning of the second half, we had our best part of the game. I saw that Malaysia were tired from the last game and the trip. And that was the moment that we had to score goals because we had three or four very big chances in the first 15 minutes of the second half.

“At the moment the Malaysia coach changed players they got more spirit and I didn’t expect it that the last part of the game they would come back. But we worked very hard and in end we’re very happy to win here. Because I think there will not be many countries in this group winning here.”

Van Marwijk opted for plenty of youth from the beginning, with four players in his side aged 23 and under. Mohammed Al Attas, 22, and Khalifa Al Hammadi, 20, partnered each other in the centre of defence, with the former overcoming a shaky first half to eventually settle well.

Forward Ali Saleh, 19, spurned a glorious chance right after half-time, while 22-year-old winger Jassim Yaqoub grew into the match after the interval also.

“You can only teach young players to play on this level by letting them play,” Van Marwijk said. “It’s always difficult because at the same time the result is very, very important. I’m happy the young players showed at the end of the game that they had a good performance.”

Van Marwijk said, although impressed by the stadium, that the heavy pitch made it difficult for his team, particularly in attack. Yet he will have been buoyed by Mabkhout’s twin strikes and the return too of Omar Abdulrahman.

The playmaker, the 2016 Asian player of the year, came on for the final 17 minutes to feature in his first official match – for club or country – since sustaining a serious knee injury last October.

Asked if, given the UAE’s sluggish opening 45 minutes, he had been tempted to change personnel at half-time, Van Marwijk said: “You saw in the second half they did much better. The easiest thing for a coach is, when somebody in the team is not playing well, to change him directly. You can also think that they have a chance to improve.

“I didn’t think to change one of the players at half time, because we didn’t pay well with 11 players. They had the chance to do it better in the second half and they did.”

Updated: September 10, 2019 09:59 PM

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