x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Majid Naser: UAE's World Cup starts again now

'We must win,' Srecko Katanec, the UAE national team coach, said of the World Cup qualifier against Lebanon. 'That's for sure.'

Ali Al Wehaibi, in the white No 7 shirt, limped out of training yesterday and is doubtful for the UAE’s match in Lebanon.
Ali Al Wehaibi, in the white No 7 shirt, limped out of training yesterday and is doubtful for the UAE’s match in Lebanon.

BEIRUT // A few days ago, the thinking in the UAE camp was that a defeat in their opening Group B match in 2014 World Cup qualifying would not be damaging. Yesterday, however, they conceded that a second poor result would be a massive setback.

"We must win," Srecko Katanec, the national team coach, said. "That's for sure."

"It's like we are restarting the competition," said Majid Naser, the UAE goalkeeper. "We know we must get a good result."

The 3-2 defeat at home to Kuwait on Friday was a big upset, but failing to take three points from Lebanon tonight at the Camille Chamoun Sports City Stadium here in Asian football's most westerly outpost would probably mean a quick end to the UAE's World Cup ambitions, even with four group games still to play.

South Korea routed Lebanon 6-0 last Friday, and the UAE crushed them in a friendly in July. The Lebanese are considered by far the weakest side in the group, an opinion that not even Theo Bucker, their German coach, would contest.

He said the Lebanese players are so young that he feels as if he is "coaching a kindergarten", and said Lebanon fans should not expect too much from him in only his second week in the job.

"I cannot touch a couple of players and make them Maradonas," Bucker said.

"We will try our best. The favourite team is the Emirates, but in football, anything is possible."

Katanec, the UAE's Slovenian coach, will reconfigure his line-up, a reflection of the latest injuries to befall the side.

Hamdan Al Kamali, the influential young central defender, suffered a broken cheekbone in the closing minutes of the Kuwait match, and the midfielder, Ali Al Wehaibi, limped out of training with a leg injury yesterday and is unlikely to play.

Musallem Fayez is a strong candidate to replace Al Kamali in the starting XI, and Amer Mubarak is expected to take over for Al Wehaibi in a side already missing Ismail Matar, the striker, and the midfielder, Omar Abdulrahman, both convalescing after knee surgery.

"The national team is changing day by day," a stoic Katanec said, "so we put in another player."

He hopes his team will bring a greater sense of urgency to the match than they did in the Kuwait game, where the visitors took a 3-0 lead before Ismail Al Hammadi and Ahmed Khalil scored in the final 10 minutes.

"We must move much faster on the ball," Katanec said. "It's the most important thing in today's football."

He expressed concern about the uneven condition of the pitch at Lebanon's premier sports facility.

"No one is talking about the field," he said. "I don't know how you can play football on it. There's no excuse for that. It will be the same for them, but it will not be good for either team."

Katanec reiterated his displeasure with the main talking point of the UAE's friendly victory over Lebanon seven weeks ago, the back-heel penalty by Theyab Awana, a startling goal that went viral on YouTube.

"I took him out immediately," Katanec said. "I apologise for this [the penalty]. It was not nice."

He expects Lebanon to be a worthy foe, despite their reputation. "They have a couple of good players. I respect them, even if they lose 6-0 to Korea. It will not be an easy match. I know this. I know they will be aggressive."

poberjuerge@thenational.ae


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