Srecko Katanec, the UAE national football coach, says games against Kuwait will be the key to his side advancing to the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Kuwait holds key to UAE's path to final round of World Cup qualifying
The UAE have been drawn in Group B of the 20-team third round of Asian qualifying along with their Gulf rivals, South Korea and Lebanon.
Katanec's side will open their campaign against Kuwait at home on September 2 before meeting Lebanon four days later in Beirut. They will travel to South Korea on October 11 and host the group favourites a month later.
Katanec concedes South Korea will be favourites to go through, leaving UAE and Kuwait to battle for the second qualifying spot.
"It is definitely a good draw for us," said the UAE coach, who is currently in Slovenia, spending time with his parents. "On paper, South Korea, we know, is the favourite in our group. We also have Kuwait, and the matches against them will be really important.
"We play regularly against them. I have played two friendlies; we beat them once [3-0] and drew 0-0. If we want to go forward, we have to beat them twice."
The UAE and Kuwait were in the same group in the third round of Asian qualifying for the 2010 World Cup as well. The UAE won the away game 3-2 and were held to a 0-0 draw at home, but Katanec does not believe the past record, and familiarity with Kuwait, will help his team.
"If you play against a team regularly, you find it more difficulty against them," he said. "But I believe we have the quality to beat them. Let's hope we have the full team with us. Against India, we missed some players through injuries, and I hope they will be back, all of them ready, before September 2."
Lebanon are the minnows of the group. The UAE beat them 6-2 in a friendly match last month, but Ismail Rashid, the UAE first team director, cautioned against taking them lightly.
"They have reached this stage and that means they have some quality," he said.