Veteran Ismail Matar earns surprise call-up to UAE squad ahead of World Cup double-header

Al Wahda forward, 38, last appeared for the national team in January 2019

epa07261865 Ismaeil Matar (C) of UAE  attends a training session at Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 04 January 2019. UAE will play against Bahrain on 05 January 2019 in a 2019 AFC Asian Cup preliminary round match.  EPA/ALI HAIDER

Ismail Matar was one of a number of surprise inclusions in an extended UAE squad for this month’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

The Al Wahda forward, 38, was named on Tuesday on a 28-man list for the crucial double-header away to South Korea, on November 11, and away to Lebanon, five days later. At present, the UAE sit fourth in Group A in the final round of qualification, five points off the automatic spots for Qatar 2022.

Matar’s call-up on Tuesday was particularly unexpected, given the veteran star had not previously featured at all during this campaign, which is already four rounds in. In fact, Matar has not played for the national team since the Asian Cup semi-final in January 2019, before Bert van Marwijk became manager for the first time. He has scored once in eight Adnoc Pro League matches this season.

Meanwhile, Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa and on-loan Ittihad Kalba defender Mohanad Salem, 32 and 36 respectively, were also named in the squad. Van Marwijk will be without defenders Shaheen Abdulrahman, Mahmoud Khamis and Khalifa Al Hammadi, and midfielders Majed Hassan and Khalfan Mubarak. All five are unavailable through injury.

The final UAE squad will be announced following the ninth round of the league, which concludes on Wednesday. The national team leaves for South Korea on Friday.

Van Marwijk’s team go into the match against the group’s second-placed side in need of a positive result. Last month, they were defeated 1-0 in Dubai by frontrunners Iran before being held to a 2-2 draw by Iraq at the same Zabeel Stadium five days later.

The draw prompted a section of the UAE support at Zabeel Stadium to call for Van Marwijk to be dismissed, with speculation rife immediately afterwards that the Dutchman, in his second stint as manager, would be relieved of his duties. The Football Association, though, moved quickly to throw their support behind him.


Goalkeepers: Ali Khaseif, Adel Al Hosani, Mohammed Al Shamsi, Khalid Essa.

Defenders: Bandar Al Ahbabi, Abdulaziz Haikal, Mohammed Al Attas, Salem Sultan, Walid Abbas, Ahmed Rashid, Mohanad Salem, Mohammed Barghash, Al Hassan Saleh.

Midfielders: Ali Salmeen, Majed Rashid, Yahya Nader, Abdullah Ramadan, Abdullah Hamad, Mohammed Abbas, Tahnoun Al Zaabi, Mohammed Juma Eid, Hareb Abdullah, Khalil Al Hammadi.

Forwards: Ismail Matar, Fabio de Lima, Caio Canedo, Ali Mabkhout, Sebastian Tagliabue.

Updated: November 2nd 2021, 1:14 PM