Rodolfo Arruabarrena plays down reports UAE will ease off tackling against Argentina

Manager insists comments about going easy on Messi during Abu Dhabi friendly ahead of World Cup were 'just a joke'

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UAE manager Rodolfo Arruabarrena said Wednesday’s friendly against Argentina in Abu Dhabi will be important for his side’s future ambitions, as he played down reports regarding instructing his players to avoid injuring their World Cup-bound opponents.

The national team meet Argentina at a sold-out Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium, in what represents the reigning Copa America champions’ final warm-up match before they travel to Doha.

On Monday, reports on social media centred on Arruabarrena, who is Argentine, telling his squad to go easy on Lionel Messi as his country’s current captain gets set for his final World Cup.

Speaking to media on Tuesday, Arruabarrena was repeatedly asked about the comments, but said: “It was a joke. Of course, that can be interpreted wrongly, but it’s just a joke. It is a match that is very important and we know that we will confront a team that is one of the candidates to reach the [World Cup] final.

“First, I would like to make it very clear that the players have been told that it is very important to play and I will never tell them to be careful. They are responsible. I hope we all enjoy, no injuries, and that Argentina will go on in the best way possible. For me as an Argentinian, that is all I want.

“My players will play to compete and to win. We are going to play against some of the world’s best players, so they are fans.

“I will be fan No 1 for Argentina from Thursday onwards, but for now I am working for my team here and we are here to compete and enjoy the experience of playing against one of the best teams in the world.”

Arruabarrena, appointed as UAE manager in February, is preparing his team for January's Arabian Gulf Cup in Iraq. The national team, who on Sunday began a week-long camp in Abu Dhabi, face Kazakhstan in another friendly on Saturday.

“I hope everyone who comes to [Wednesday's] match will enjoy. It will be a fantastic show. I know a lot of the people [in the Argentina camp], but for me it is also a very important moment for my team. They are very young and for many of them it will be their first time playing against such a high-level of rival.

“I want them to enjoy, but also to suffer. They will acquire great experience from this. I want us to compete, but really I want a good game.”

Arruabarrena, 47, was a popular choice as UAE manager when he succeeded Bert van Marwjik deep into qualification for the World Cup - his first taste of international management.

In the end, the former Al Wasl and Shabab Al Ahli manager guided the national team through to the play-offs, however, his side were defeated by Australia in Qatar in June.

Arruabarrena, whose contract runs through until the next Asian Cup, said his goal is to leave a legacy of improvement with a new-look UAE , no matter how long he is in the role.

“That is what I am working for,” the former national team full-back said. “When I took this role, I had been here six years, I knew most of the players, and I am really happy with the new players, the older ones.

“We have a lot of work to do to achieve, to change the situations, with the players, the federation and the league, so let’s see.

“I don’t want to be just another coach here. Even if I have to be here 10 years or longer. If I have to leave, I want to leave something behind – I want to create a competitive team.”

Updated: November 15, 2022, 3:22 PM