UAE manager Rodolfo Arruabarrena says he is confident his players can handle the magnitude of the moment against Australia on Tuesday, as they look to take the penultimate step towards a second World Cup appearance in the country’s history.
The national team contest what they hope will be the first of two play-offs this next week in Qatar to book their spot at the global finals later this year, with Australia providing the initial test at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan.
Should they win, the UAE then take on Peru at the same venue next Monday for a place at the World Cup. The Emirates has only once previously appeared at football’s showpiece tournament, in 1990, and have not contested the play-offs since 2001.
Australia, meanwhile, are attempting to qualify for a fifth consecutive World Cup, while they came through the play-offs – they defeated Syria and Honduras - to reach Russia 2018.
Speaking to the media on Monday night, Arruabarrena said: “We are facing a very tough team, who have the experience - it’s a very tough match for us. But from what I see in the players’ eyes, they have the motivation, they want to do their best in tomorrow’s game. And for sure we have strengths, they have weaknesses, and we’ll focus on our advantages and try to play on their weak points.
“We have the quality of players who can compete with Australia. Maybe Australia has advantages in their physicality, have speedy players. But at the same time, our players are clever, they can handle the pressure, they can handle the situation of the game.
“We play a match for history tomorrow. We also have the ambition and the inspiration to qualify to the World Cup. And if we qualify this is a present for the Emirati citizens, especially after the passing of our president Sheikh Khalifa.
“We will do our best in tomorrow’s match. Talk is easy, but the work will be on the pitch and hopefully we will gain a great result for the team and then make it and qualify.”
Arruabarrena, 46, takes charge of the UAE for only the third official match having replaced Bert van Marwijk as manager in February. The Argentine, who previously managed Al Wasl and Shabab Al Ahli in the UAE, was understandably tight-lipped regarding team selection on Tuesday, with much speculation regarding playmaker Omar Abdulrahman’s return to the starting line-up.
The 2016 Asian player of the year, hampered by injury for much of the past two years, last played a competitive match for the national team in November 2019.
“Yes, Omar is back the squad after his performance in the previous matches [with Shabab Al Ahli],” Arruabarrena said. “In these kinds of matches it doesn’t matter how old you are; what matters is the character of the player, how he will handle the pressure and the situation of the match itself. Even the discipline of the player during the match. So tomorrow’s match is a historical match for both teams.”
The UAE are expected to enjoy the majority of support at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium after the Football Association provided 5,000 match tickets for Emirati fans.
On whether the support on the ground, and the proximity of Qatar to the UAE, meant the game could be considered a “home” tie for his side, Arruabarrena said: “Each match has a different situation, different moment, different atmosphere, so we are trying to do our best during the game. As I mentioned, if we get the ticket for the World Cup it is something really for us and the Emirati people.
“For sure the fans will have their effect, especially because it's football, we love to play a football match with fans. But mainly we focus on our game, about the team itself. The fans are coming to cheer for their teams, whether UAE or Australia. And we hope that we will enjoy the game and we will give the maximum.”
Meanwhile, Australia manager Graham Arnold said: “Australia are used to doing it the hard way. It’s an experience that we are used to. We have analysed, looked at the UAE and we know their strengths and weaknesses, so we know what to expect.
“We know what the game is all about, but it is also a great opportunity for the boys to show what they have.The advantage is that we have a strong group of players. Physically we are ready for this game.
“My job today and tomorrow is to keep the boys relaxed. We spent a lot of time on the training pitch and the boys have strong belief. There is a great atmosphere and spirit in the group. Physically and mentally, we are in a great place, and I think that will help us through.”