Ali Kasheif targets positive start to UAE's World Cup qualifiers

National team begin final round with a double-header against Lebanon and Syria

UAE goalkeeper Ali Kasheif says the squad are focused solely on the resumption of World Cup qualification as the final round kicks off this week.

The national team, seeking to reach the country's second global finals, begin their Group A campaign against Lebanon on Thursday at the Zabeel Stadium in Dubai. The match marks the first of a double-header, with the game against Syria taking place in Jordan five days later.

At 98th in the Fifa standings, Lebanon represent the lowest-ranked side in the group – Iran, South Korea and Iraq make up the pool – however the UAE (68th) are all too aware of the importance of kick-starting the round with victory. The top two teams in Group A advance automatically to Qatar 2022, while third place must then enter a series of play-offs to qualify for the tournament.

Khaseif, therefore, has reminded his teammates not to underestimate Lebanon, adding that the UAE would do everything in their power to take maximum points from the opening set of fixtures.

"The task will not be easy, because the group includes strong teams, which means there are many difficult matches awaiting us,” the Al Jazira goalkeeper said. “Our focus at the moment is on the Lebanon match, then the match against Syria, and then we will deal with each match separately.

“We have to work on getting points and progress, from one game to the next, to reach our goal.”

The UAE booked their spot in the third round by finishing top of their group in the second phase, when they won all four postponed qualifiers in June to prevail by one point. They have been victorious in their past six matches - including friendlies – scoring 26 goals.

The UAE have been training in Dubai since the conclusion of Round 2 in the Arabian Gulf League on Thursday. Wasl forward Ali Saleh has since replaced Khalil Ibrahim in the squad, while manager Bert van Marwijk has also called up Shabab Al Ahli midfielder Abdullah Al Naqbi to join the group.

Thursday’s game against Lebanon will be open to spectators at 60 per cent capacity, as the qualifiers continue to be played in accordance with national Covid-19 guidelines.

UAE captain Walid Abbas said: "We realise that the fans will be with us as they have always been, and we are fully confident in their strong stance behind the players.

“For our part, we will give everything we have to make everyone happy, and we will spare no effort to achieve the desired goal."

Updated: August 29th 2021, 9:52 AM