'Today I will take my decision, or maximum early tomorrow,' UAE manager Edgardo Bauza says.
World Cup qualifier: UAE to make late call whether to field Omar Abdulrahman against Saudi Arabia
UAE manager Edgardo Bauza says he will leave it until as late as possible to decide if Omar Abdulrahman can make Tuesday’s must-win World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia.
The Al Ain playmaker, who is the Asian player of the year, is a major doubt for the match at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium having picked up an ankle injury before last week’s Asian Champions League quarter-final first leg with Al Hilal. Abdulrahman still completed the full 90 minutes in the 0-0 draw.
The midfielder, 25, will be assessed at training on Monday night, with a decision to be made early Tuesday as to whether he can play any part in what is a crucial encounter as the UAE seek to keep alive their World Cup dream.
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With only two matches remaining in Group B, the national team sit fourth, six points off a play-off place. They have to therefore collect maximum points against the Saudis and then Iraq next week, while hoping for other results to go their way and for a large swing in goal difference.
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Abdulrahman absence would represent a huge blow, especially as the UAE could also be without a number of key players, including defender Ismail Ahmed. Winger Ismail Al Hamadi and Hamdan Al Kamali, the Al Wahda centre-back, are definitely out.
“They are absentees due to injury, especially Omar,” said Bauza, who opened his tenure in June with the disappointing 1-1 draw in Thailand. “Currently, I’m unsure if Omar is ready to be part of the team. I will determine if they are ready to be part of the starting line up, but it has not been decided. Today I will take my decision, or maximum early tomorrow. I have full confidence in all the elements of the UAE team and the priority will be for the ready players.
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“Regardless of the injuries we have, the objective is to win the match and snatch the three points. If we can score more goals, this is a positive, but the main objective is to win.
“The preparations are very good, everybody is serious and are working in the spirit of the team. We wish to be lucky and for other circumstances to help us. The national team and I will present the best performance. I am ambitious to win this match. This is the only objective I have.”
In second-placed Saudi Arabia, the UAE face a side with whom they know extremely well. However, their record against their Gulf rivals is poor: the UAE have lost eight of their past nine meetings, with the other contest finishing in a draw.
The teams met most recently in the reverse fixture last October, when the Saudis won 3-0 in Jeddah. They also hold an advantage given the 2017/18 Saudi Pro League season began earlier this month, whereas the UAE domestic campaign is yet to start.
"The Saudi team is more ready compared to us, in terms of the number of matches and the Saudi Arabia league starting earlier,” Bauza said. "They have played nearly three matches, as well as the Asian Champions League match here in Al Ain [for Al Hilal].
"Of course, this is a disadvantage for the UAE because only Al Ain have played an official match. We hope that the rhythm of the match will be good and we can take the points.”
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.