World Cup 2022: Five players integral to UAE's chances of reaching the global finals

Drawn in Group A, the national team open the final round against Lebanon on Thursday before facing Syria next Tuesday and then Iran, Iraq and South Korea in the coming months

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On Thursday, the UAE begin the third and final round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup with a home match against Lebanon. Here’s a look at five players key to the national team’s chances of booking a spot in Qatar next year.

Ali Khaseif

The Al Jazira goalkeeper has made the No 1 position his own having lost out for some time to Al Ain’s Khalid Essa. A current Arabian Gulf League champion with his club, Khaseif continues to be a major influence in the dressing room, as well as on the pitch.

He proved his shot-stopping capabilities remain intact during the postponed second-round qualifiers in June – Khaseif was on hand to bail out his side whenever required. He is ably assisted by captain Walid Abbas, who guides defence in front.

Ali Khaseif of the UAE takes part in a training session prior to the teams trip to East Timor. 25 Ma 2015. Photo Courtesy: UAE FA *** Local Caption ***  on26ma-UAETraining2.jpg

Ali Salmeen

A firm favourite among the UAE coaching staff, the Al Wasl midfielder has been exemplary in the heart of the side since making the position his own at the beginning of the second round of qualification.

Salmeen is tireless and tenacious in midfield, but displayed his excellent technique too in the decider against Vietnam when his rocketed strike gave the UAE the lead. Excellent at breaking up play, while also linking possession. Has become a crucial cog in Bert van Marwijk’s side.

UAE midfielder Ali Salmeen. Courtesy UAE FA

Abdullah Ramadan

The Salmeen-Ramadan axis has reaped rewards for manager Bert van Marwijk, with the Al Jazira midfielder becoming one of the real stars of the side since his debut in late 2019.

A silky technician who also mixes up his game by helping out defensively, Ramadan took his club form with the newly appointed UAE champions into June’s qualifiers. There, he registered three assists and attracted an ample amount of the spotlight with his all-round play. Intelligent and with an eye for a killer ball, much to Ali Mabkhout’s benefit.

Abdullah Ramadan of the UAE during the game between the UAE and Vietnam in the World cup qualifiers at the Zabeel Stadium, Dubai on June 15th, 2021. Chris Whiteoak / The National. 
Reporter: John McAuley for Sport

Fabio De Lima

What an impact the Al Wasl forward has made since being granted UAE citizenship early last year. The pandemic may have delayed his debut, but De Lima certainly made up for lost time during the June qualifiers.

The Brazil-born attacker, a consistent star in the domestic league, scored five goals in four matches, including doubles against Malaysia and Indonesia. However, he can create as well as carry that goal threat. Alongside the naturalised Caio Canedo and Sebastian Tagliabue, his presence has taken the goalscoring strain off Mabkhout. De Lima, though, is the standout.

Fabio De Lima of the UAE battles with Guilherme Lucrecio of Malaysia during the game between the UAE and Malaysia in the World cup qualifiers at the Zabeel Stadium, Dubai on June 3rd, 2021. Chris Whiteoak / The National. 
Reporter: John McAuley for Sport

Ali Mabkhout

The UAE’s all-time record goalscorer, the lead marksman thus far throughout the entire World Cup 2022 qualification, and a recently anointed Emirati player of the year, Mabkhout remains the go-to guy for his country.

The Al Jazira striker struck five times during June and could have had a few more, eventually taking his tally for the campaign to an unrivalled 11 goals. His overall haul stands at 76. Leading expertly from the front, Mabkhout has become a more vocal member of the squad, too. His role in the side, for some time established, cannot be underestimated.

UAE's forward Ali Mabkhout celebrates his goal during the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup Group A football match between United Arab Emirates and Yemen at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium in the Qatari capital Doha on November 26, 2019.  / AFP / MUSTAFA ABUMUNES
Updated: August 31, 2021, 6:18 AM