Bert van Marwijk rues refereeing as UAE denied vital World Cup qualifying victory

National team held 2-2 by Iraq on Tuesday to remain winless in final round for Qatar 2022

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Bert van Marwijk said an incorrect refereeing decision cost the UAE three valuable points in their bid to reach the 2022 World Cup, as the national team's bid to make the global finals suffered another set-back.

The UAE were held to a 2-2 draw at Zabeel Stadium in Dubai on Tuesday night, meaning they search still for a first win in the final round of qualification.

In a frenetic finish against Iraq, Ali Mabkhout’s equaliser four minutes into injury time cancelled out Ayman Hussein’s 90th-minute strike for the visitors to seemingly seal a point for the hosts.

However, moments later Khalfan Mubarak appeared to have poked home a late, late winner, only for the Video Assistant Referee to deem Iraq goalkeeper Fahad Talib had prevented the ball from crossing the line as he threw himself across his goal. One replay afterwards suggested the ball had actually crossed the line, although the angle was not conclusive. It proved the final kick of the match.

As it stands, the UAE sit fourth in Group A on three points from four games, five points off the top two slots that guarantee qualification to the World Cup. They lie two behind Lebanon in third, which could yet offer another route to Qatar.

Speaking immediately following the draw, Van Marwijk told the gathered media: “If you come back in the room after the game and I see the images of the 3-2, it’s so clear on television that the ball is over the line ... so unbelievably clear.

“And we live in 2021 with all the technology, it’s not possible in this game, where it is for the World Cup, that nobody can see that the ball is over the line. So actually we won 3-2.”

The UAE had taken the lead through Caio Canedo shortly after the half-hour, but a Mohammed Al Attas own goal in the 74th minute drew Iraq level. Substitute Hussein then finished well in the final minute of normal time to apparently give the visitors a first victory of the campaign, only for Mabkhout, who had been off-colour all night, to rescue a point.

“I think we started well, we get a few half chances and then slowly we gave the initiative away,” Van Marwijk said. “We did it ourselves. The passing was not so good and concentrated any more, the movements in the midfield. But then it’s 1-0 at half time. Second half also we had a good part, and we got enough chances to decide this game.

“But if you don’t take the chances – I think the ball possession was 65-35 in our advantage – it can always be that the opponent can score. It’s good that the team came back from 2-1 down and got 2-2. So, as I began, actually we should have won this game 3-2. But I’m no VAR and no referee.”

Van Marwijk defended his decision not to introduce striker Sebastian Tagliabue earlier in the match – the Al Nasr frontman came off the bench in injury time and set up the equaliser – despite supporters calling his name throughout the second half.

The Dutchman, whose tenure was discussed after the match by the national team committee, said he felt initially that the UAE would be able to have more success with Mabkhout as a lone striker.

Asked about the home fans outside the Zabeel Stadium calling for him to step down, Van Marwijk said: “But that’s also everywhere the same. You get always positive and negative sentiment. I cannot do anything with that. For me, I do it in my way. And if they don’t like it, they have to say it.”

The UAE travel to second-placed South Korea next month and then face Lebanon away five days later. Iran remain top of Group A, on 10 points, after drawing 1-1 at home to Korea, who have eight points, while Lebanon defeated Syria to leapfrog UAE into third.

On his team’s hopes of reaching the World Cup, Van Marwijk said: “The chances are exactly the same as before the game. Because Iran and Korea played a draw and we played a draw. Lebanon wins, but are not far away. So I think the chances are still the same.”

Updated: October 13, 2021, 9:00 AM