UAE manager Bert van Marwijk says preparations for the final round of World Cup qualification have gone well, although he reminded his side not to look past Lebanon in Thursday’s opener.
The UAE kick-start their Group A campaign at the Zabeel Stadium in Dubai against the lowest-ranked team in the pool before travelling to Jordan to take on Syria on September 7. Iran, South Korea and Iraq make up the group.
Seeking to reach only a second World Cup in the country’s history, the UAE know a fast start is required if they are to seal one of the two automatic spots available for Qatar 2022. Third place could also be enough to reach the finals, however a series of play-offs would then need to be negotiated.
Speaking before training in Dubai on Monday night, Van Marwijk cautioned against underestimating Lebanon, citing the importance of beginning their Round 3 campaign with victory.
“That’s what I tell the players all the time, every day,” the Dutchman said. “I don’t even want to talk about the second game; it’s all about the first game. You have to win the first game and then you will see what happens.
“We are preparing fully. Everybody knows that we already came together just after the last [Arabian Gulf League] round and just before that we had a training camp in Serbia. So the preparation is very good and we have full concentration on the first game.”
Asked about the threat posed by Lebanon, who are ranked 98th by Fifa - the UAE are 68th - Van Marwijk said: “I never talk about our opponents. We survived the [second] round and we are now in the final round. The quality of the opponents now are higher and we respect every opponent. But we always want to play our own game, our own way of playing. That’s why we work this way.”
In his second stint as UAE manager, Van Marwijk has enjoyed success in the region previously having masterminded Saudi Arabia’s qualification for the 2018 World Cup – their first appearance at a global finals in 12 years.
It was put to Van Marwijk on Monday that Group A represents the easier of the two in the third round - Group B includes Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia and China - although the former Netherlands manager replied: "Somebody says difficult, somebody says easy. Nothing will be easy. Never.
“We are now in the final round for qualification, and I already said after the [last] round that we have a chance. And I still think the same.”
Van Marwijk’s squad for the double-header has been depleted by the withdrawal of Hassan Al Muharrami. The Baniyas defender, 25, suffered a cruciate ligament injury during training on Sunday and is expected to be out for rest of the season.
“I feel very sorry for him,” Van Marwijk said. “It happened here, there was no contact, no duel, just suddenly. I was with him last night. I feel very sorry for him. I had a lot of trust in him.
“He’s young, and talented, and he came closer and closer to the team, and then this happens. But he’s strong and I’m 100 per cent sure he will come back.”