DUBAI // A point against Malaysia tonight will guarantee the UAE's place at the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar, but qualification will just be the first step in a long list of objectives drawn up for the team this year and next. Having beaten Malaysia 5-0 in their first Group C meeting in Kuala Lumpur a year ago the hosts are heavily favoured to get the point they need at Dubai's Al Shabab stadium tonight to seal their spot among the continent's elite. But the men in charge of the game want more.
The UAE are craving a big win to give themselves the chance of finishing top of the group - which also includes Uzbekistan - with victory in Tashkent on March 3. Later, their focus will shift to the Asian Games and the Gulf Cup, which will both be taking place in November. Following those two events, the UAE will hopefully be playing in the Asian Cup in January 2011 before making a determined to bid to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics Games in March of that year.
"This game is just the start of a long plan for us," said Mohammed Khalfan al Rumaithi, the president of the Football Association. "We have drawn up a very clear strategic and operational plan to translate our goals and ambitions into reality. "We respect Malaysia, but we are looking for a strong performance and convincing win in this game to give us a chance of finishing at the top of our group in the Asian qualifiers.
"That is our target and it will be a tough challenge for the team, but it is time to raise the ceiling of our ambitions. "We reached the final of the Asian Cup in 1996 and finished fourth in 1992. This time, our ambition will be to reach the semi-finals at least. "The 2012 Olympic qualifiers are also high on our priority list as we want our team in London. Then, of course, we want to reach the 2014 World Cup finals.
"We have the Gulf Cup and the Asian Games later this year before those events, and we will be having camps and drawing up plans to prepare the team for a strong showing in their competitions and achieve our legitimate aspirations." Malaysia have arrived in the UAE without any pretensions, conceding that stopping the UAE could possibly be beyond them. The visiting coach, K Rajagobal, however, suggested the hosts could be under pressure, considering that they are expected not just win the game but win it handsomely.The UAE coach, Srecko Katanec, made it clear no unnecessary demands will be placed on his team, and his instruction to his players is just to enjoy the game.
"There is absolutely no pressure," he said. "I will never tell my players 'you must win'. I always tell my players to go out and enjoy doing their job, which is the most beautiful job they can do. "Football is a strange sport where some situation in the game can decide who wins. So we are not under pressure and I will never put my players under pressure. But also, I never tell my players 'today we must lose'. We want to win all the time, me and the team."