Manager Bert van Marwijk warns his team, on cusp of qualification for 2018 event, against complacency.
World Cup qualifier: Saudi Arabia expect difficult test against 'fanatic' UAE
Bert van Marwijk has warned his Saudi Arabia side not to be complacent against a “fanatic” UAE on Tuesday as they look to take a major step towards next summer’s World Cup.
The Saudis, four-time participants, are well placed to reach the global finals for the first time since 2006 and know victory at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium would leave them on the cusp of securing a place in Russia.
Van Marwijk’s men rank second in Group B, one point off leaders Japan with two matches remaining. Australia are third, level on points with the Saudis although the reigning Asian champions face a difficult task against Japan in Saitama on Thursday.
Also from John McAuley:
- WATCH: Khalil says 'nothing is impossible' against Saudi Arabia
- Five ways UAE can beat Saudi Arabia and Iraq in qualifiers left
Saudi Arabia could have already sealed a spot at next year’s event, but they lost 3-2 in Australia in June. Hence, Van Marwijk dismissed the idea that his side are 75 per cent certain to make the World Cup.
“We had a big chance to go to Russia in Australia and we didn’t do it, so this game is even more important because this is one of our last chances,” said the Dutchman, whose team conclude their campaign at home to Japan next week. “So we did everything to prepare as good as possible.
“This game will not be easy for us, but I trust my team. I don’t have problems with pressure, when you want to reach the top level you must have pressure. But 75 per cent is not the truth, maybe 50 per cent. It is a big chance, but we must win the first match first.”
Van Marwijk urged his players to be fully concentrated for Tuesday’s encounter. The game is a must-win for the UAE, who sit fourth in the group and therefore retain only slim hopes of qualifying.
“This game here against the Emirates will be very difficult because they still have a chance,” he said. “They are playing to win back six points and 10 goals, but they have a chance and they will go for that. They will be very fanatic in the beginning so we are prepared for that."
Highlights from UAE's last encounter against Saudi Arabia
Asked about guarding against complacency, Van Marwijk added: “When we have that feeling it would be a big mistake for us. We must be even more concentrated. You forget our group includes Japan and Australia, not weak teams. We have a chance, but we have to work very, very hard.”
The Saudis should welcome back playmaker Nawaf Al Abed, who missed through injury Al Hilal’s Asian Champions League clash with Al Ain last week. However, defender Mohammed Al Breik faces a race to be fit.
UAE lynchpin Omar Abdulrahman looks likely to miss out for the hosts, although Van Marwijk played down the Asian player of the year's potential absence.
“I explained already that we try to play everywhere the same way, whether home or away, whether the UAE or Brazil,” he said. “I don’t know if he plays. Those things can be an advantage or a disadvantage. We have to prepare and look only at ourselves.”
John McAuley: If Omar is out, teammates must stand up
Edgardo Bauza: UAE to make late call on Abdulrahman
AS IT STANDS:
The UAE are fourth in Group B, the final stage of qualification for next summer’s World Cup, six points off a play-off spot with two matches remaining. Only the top two teams are guaranteed a place in Russia, with third place to enter a series of play-offs.
The UAE must therefore defeat both Saudi Arabia on Tuesday and Iraq next week to stand any chance of making only a second World Cup appearance. However, given their situation, they need for either the Saudis or Australia to fail to collect any more points, while also requiring a huge swing in goal difference. At present, the UAE are nine goals worse off than Australia in third and 10 worse off than the second-placed Saudis.