Paulo Bento out to restore belief in UAE as team get set for 2026 World Cup qualification

National team begin second-round campaign next week against Nepal and then face Bahrain five days later

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Paulo Bento said he hopes the UAE can restore supporters’ confidence in the national team as preparations continue for next week’s start to qualification for the 2026 World Cup.

The former Portugal and South Korea manager, appointed in July as successor to Rodolfo Arruabarrena, will take charge of his first competitive match with the UAE on Thursday, when they kick off the qualifiers at home to Nepal. That match takes place at Al Nasr’s Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai.

Drawn in Group H for the second round of qualification, the UAE then face Bahrain away on November 21. Yemen make up the other side in the pool.

The national team, who narrowly missed out on a spot at last year’s World Cup, are seeking to become only the second UAE side to reach a global finals, and first since 1990.

Speaking after training at Zabeel Stadium on Thursday night, Bento told a group of reporters: “We are doing the best possible preparation for the first official game. We know it’s an important game for us, because it’s the first of the qualifiers, and we are going to play at home.

“After today, we have all the players in the camp, because before some of them were competing with their clubs [Sharjah and Al Ain] in the Asian Champions League.

“We are satisfied with the commitment of the players. We are in the good way to make a good game and, of course, try to gain the three points.”

Bento, 54, has guided both Portugal – his homeland - and South Korea to World Cups, in 2014 and 2022 respectively. At last year’s tournament in Qatar, he led South Korea to the knockout stages, where they lost to Brazil.

Bento has won all three matches as UAE manager: a trio of friendlies against Costa Rica, Kuwait and Lebanon.

“Our goal is to restore the confidence and faith of the fans in the national team by continuing the positive results,” the Portuguese said. “We ask the fans to be present behind the national team, because their presence is important to motivate the players to perform better."

The 2026 World Cup, to be held in the Unites States, Canada and Mexico, has been expanded to 48 teams, with the number of Asian representatives increased from four guaranteed to eight. There is also one spot available through the intercontinental play-offs.

However, Bento said: "Increasing the number of qualifying places for the World Cup does not mean the task is easy, because all teams have the same ambition.

“But we have the desire and determination to fight for our chances of qualifying.”

Updated: November 10, 2023, 11:22 AM