The UAE will be seeking a positive conclusion to a doomed qualifying campaign by winning their first points in Group B against Lebanon today.
UAE coach hopes to bow out of World Cup qualifying on a high
ABU DHABI // When the third-round list of World Cup 2014 Asia qualifying fixtures was released last year, the "UAE versus Lebanon" match on February 29 caught the eye.
Fans of the global game, aware of the UAE's traditional place as a top-10 Asia power, as well as Lebanon's history as a continental cipher, would have seen the match as a chance for the UAE to secure passage into the final round of qualifying for Brazil 2014.
As it happens, the match is very meaningful, but only for Lebanon, the surprise team of Asia, who can reach the final round of qualifying when they meet the UAE at Al Wahda's Al Nahyan Stadium at 4pm today.
The UAE will be seeking a positive conclusion to a doomed qualifying campaign by winning their first points in Group B.
"It is our last game, and we are hoping to achieve something to satisfy the fans and players and administration and everyone committed to our team," said Abdullah Misfir, the senior team's coach. "The Lebanese are here to get something else, so we expect a very tough match."
The UAE-Lebanon game will kick off at the same time as the South Korea-Kuwait match in Seoul, and every side except the UAE can still advance.
Lebanon and South Korea lead on 10 points, and Kuwait are on eight. Lebanon and South Korea need only a draw to secure passage to the final 10 of Asia. Kuwait go forward if they win in Seoul.
Lebanon also advance if they lose in combination with a Kuwait defeat or draw.
The match is of tremendous interest in Lebanon, where the UAE's campaign foundered in a 3-1 shock defeat on September 6, the day that the coach Srecko Katanec was fired.
Lebanon have never reached the final round of World Cup qualifying, and their fans have been counting down the days to the match.
Lebanon's education minister has ordered all schools to end their sessions at 1pm today so that children will be able to see the match, which begins at 2pm Lebanon time.
Around 8,000 Lebanon fans are expected to attend the match at Al Wahda's ground, a contingent likely to dwarf the UAE support. Most of Lebanon's fans will come from their local expatriate population, but many are arriving from Beirut, and at least 20 are flying in from Brazil, officials said.
"Opponents are taking us much more seriously than they once did," said Theo Bucker, Lebanon's German coach. "The Emirates team, with no points in the competition, will try to make something for their team with all their power and emotion."
Misfir will choose his line-up from a player pool lacking the whole of the Under 23 side, who are training in Turkey, as well as several veteran players nursing injuries.
In a 3-0 friendly victory over Palestine over the weekend, Misfir started Essa Obaid of Al Shabab at forward, along with Wahda's Ismail Matar, and also looked at players with little or no experience with the national team, including Abdullah Qasem of Al Jazira, Yaqoub Yousef of Wahda, Mohammed Nasser of Al Ain and Adnan Hussein of Baniyas.
"We are giving a chance to some new players to prove themselves and to show the team can depend on them in the future," Misfir said.
The side also includes several players with numerous caps, including the Al Ain winger Ali Al Wehaibi, the Jazira defenders Abdullah Mousa and Khalid Sabeel, and the Al Ahli defender Basheer Saeed. Ali Kasheif, the Jazira goalkeeper returning from knee surgery, is likely to be in the side.
Lebanon's line-up is expected to include three men who play their club football in the UAE: the Ahli defender Youssef Mohammed, the Ajman winger Hassan Maatouk and the Dubai midfielder Abbas Ali Atwi.
Matar said the UAE hope to finish well. "I and my colleagues will do our best to get something from this match," he said. "We know that the Lebanese are in a very good position and that they will fight hard."