x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Ismail Matar plots a great World Cup escape

Victory is a must against South Korea today to keep slim hopes alive of reaching Brazil in 2014

Ismail Matar believes the UAE can cause an upset against South Korea.
Ismail Matar believes the UAE can cause an upset against South Korea.

Ismail Matar knows that the UAE's escape act must start tonight with an unlikely victory at home to South Korea if they are to keep alive their slim hopes of progressing to the next stage of World Cup qualification.

The UAE are rooted to the bottom of Group B after surprise defeats at the hands of Kuwait and Lebanon - results that cost Srecko Katanec his job as coach of the national team - and have now left themselves needing to achieve one of their best results and defeat a team who were knocked out of the World Cup last year by Uruguay, the eventual semi-finalists.

Even then they also will need to beat Kuwait, on Tuesday, and Lebanon, in February, to stand a chance of finishing in the top two and progressing to the next phase.

"This is our last chance and nothing less than a win would be enough," Matar said, "We are aware of Korea's strength but in football everything is possible. We can only go out there and give our best and hopefully return with three points."

Matar scored on his return from injury in the 2-1 defeat against South Korea last month and showed signs, following a knee injury, that he is slowly recapturing the form that saw him score five goals when the UAE won the Gulf Cup in 2007.

"It is not for me to know if I am the same player or not when we won the Gulf Cup; I leave it for the others to judge that. But I certainly feel a lot better after the treatment to my knee," Matar said.

Josef Hickersberger, Matar's coach at Wahda, believes the forward is on the mend.

"I see a big difference in Ismail after the treatment he underwent [in Germany] during the summer," Hickersberger said. "He is getting better after every game and it won't be long to see him back as the player we know him to be. He is one of those players who can turn the game in a single move.

"He can create a scoring opportunity or score himself, which he did in our last game when he scored in the 1-0 win over Ajman last week. I hope he can turn the game around for his country. He has not given up hope of seeing the UAE play in the World Cup. I can only admire his courage and wish him well."

The UAE will face a powerful Korea squad which includes Koo Ja-cheol, the Wolfsburg midfielder, and the Premier League players Ji Dong-won and Park Chu-young.

"We respect our opponent as a strong team," Abdullah Misfir, the UAE coach, said. "They have an excellent record in the World Cup qualifiers, yet they are not unbeatable. The last time we met, we played a tactical game. It was a close game. Still, we lost. Obviously, we must play to win this game as this is our last hope. Our preparations have gone well."

Misfir urged the fans to "come in large numbers to stand behind us".

Cho Kwang-rae, the Korea coach, is expecting a tough assignment.

"The UAE are in a must-win situation and we would expect them to come very hard at us," he said.

 

apassela@thenational.ae