Ali Mabkhout confident UAE ‘can get back on track and win’ remaining 2018 World Cup qualifiers

UAE striker says qualifying for Russia 2018 'still highly possible', while manager Mahdi Ali apologises to 40,000 fans who came to watch 1-0 Australia defeat at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
UAE striker Al Mabkhout, right, could not find a way past Australia during their 2018 World Cup qualifier at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, September 6, 2016. Tom Dulat / Getty Images
UAE striker Al Mabkhout, right, could not find a way past Australia during their 2018 World Cup qualifier at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, September 6, 2016. Tom Dulat / Getty Images

ABU DHABI // The UAE will not let Tuesday’s disappointing defeat to Australia rock their belief that they can still reach the 2018 World Cup, according to striker Ali Mabkhout.

The Al Jazira forward could do little to prevent the visitors to the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium from registering a 1-0 victory in their second Group B fixture, with veteran Tim Cahill coming off the bench to notch the winner in the 75th minute.

The result consigned the UAE to their first defeat in this final phase of qualification for Russia 2018, although last week’s stunning win against Japan in Saitama means Mahdi Ali’s side have still taken three points from what was a daunting double-header to begin their group campaign. Japan have participated at the past five global finals, while Australia are chasing a fourth consecutive appearance. They are also the current Asian champions.

More from UAE v Australia:

• Paul Radley: UAE’s road to Russia 2018 hits a dent, but the dream is far from over

• Reaction: Mahdi Ali insists UAE World Cup dream is still alive: ‘We lost one match’

• Gallery: UAE’s road to Russia 2018 hits a Tim Cahill-shaped roadblock as Australia win

• Mark Milligan: Australia’s win over UAE ‘won’t mean anything’ without more points

So, with matches to come next month against Thailand and Saudi Arabia, and Iraq making up the rest of the group, Mabkhout is convinced the UAE remain well in the hunt for what would be only their second appearance at a World Cup.

“It is true that we lost to Australia, but we are confident that we can make up for that, especially because we still have a long way to go and winning outside the UAE is still highly possible,” he said.

“We started with the toughest games in qualification, against teams as strong as Japan and Australia, while the other teams in the group have not played against them, particularly Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

“Despite our defeat to Australia, we have greatly benefited from the game. It has heightened the spirit of competition and confidence among all the players in a bid for redemption. So we are confident that we can get back on track and win the remaining games.”

The UAE sit fourth in the group at this admittedly early stage, level on points with third-placed Japan and three back from Saudi Arabia and Australia. The top two teams advance automatically to Russia, with the team who finishes third then having to negotiate a series of play-offs to qualify.

Given Australia and Japan are considered favourites for the guaranteed spots, the UAE’s clash with Gulf rivals Saudi Arabia in Jeddah on October 11 is viewed as pivotal to their chances. It comes five days after they host Thailand in Abu Dhabi.

Defender Walid Abbas, who captained the team against Australia, urged his teammates to forget about the defeat and quickly lift spirits for next month’s matches.

“It is just one game,” he said. “It is true that everyone is saddened by the defeat, but we have promised to make up in the coming games and try to win the next two rounds against Thailand and Saudi Arabia.”

Meanwhile, manager Mahdi Ali thanked the UAE fans for their support on Tuesday night and vowed to repay them by making the World Cup. More than 40,000 spectators were present at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, one of the biggest crowds at a national team match in recent years.

“I apologise for the result,” Mahdi Ali said. “I wish that the team will give better performances and we will celebrate our qualification to the World Cup in this stadium in the future.

“It is only one match. We still have our chances, they are still there. We still believe in ourselves and our dream to reach the finals. Nobody expected us to beat Japan, but we beat Japan at their home. Anything can happen in this group.”

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Published: September 7, 2016 04:00 AM

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