Bert van Marwijk was left to rue missed chances and two points dropped in the UAE’s World Cup qualification final-round opener, but says he trusts in the team to bounce back quickly.
The national team were held to a disappointing goalless draw at home to Lebanon on Thursday night, as they lost ground right at the offset in Group A.
However, the UAE should have taken maximum points at the Zabeel Stadium, with Ali Mabkhout missing a host of chances in the first half – he struck the woodwork with his third attempt – and Caio Canedo failing to convert an albeit-awkward opportunity, too.
The UAE, who qualified for this stage by winning all four of their final second-round matches in June, now travel to Jordan to take on Syria on Tuesday.
Asked post-match if a draw against the lowest-ranked team in the group felt a point gained or two dropped, Van Marwijk said: “Lost two points. We didn’t reach the level from the past four games. I feel we were much better than our opponent and we should have scored at least two, three goals.
“We had big, big chances, especially in the first half. I think all the statistics were in our advantage. If you want to win the game, you have to score and make the difference. We didn’t give away one chance, I think, and the defenders did very well. For me, the best players were Walid [Abbas] and Ali Salmeen.
“But the level we had in the first four games, we didn’t reach it. But still at this level it must be enough to win this game."
Van Marwijk attributed the UAE’s somewhat stilted display to a number of issues, chiefly pre-match injury concerns to key trio Salmeen, Fabio De Lima and Abdullah Ramadan. The latter, a standout performer during the June qualifiers, was not fit enough to start, although he was introduced for the final 20 minutes.
“I don’t want to give an excuse… but those three important players, they had an injury and are coming back,” Van Marwijk said. “But they’re so important for the team that we had to start two from the three players.
“Maybe that has also to do with the fact that we didn’t reach that level. But if I could guarantee you that we reached every game the level of the past four games then I can go home. You don’t need me any more.”
Van Marwijk said the result had nothing to do with the UAE’s style of play, which has served them so well since he returned as manager in December.
“No, because we played in the same way as the past four games,” he said. “Only the past four games we reached the level almost 100 per cent; now was 10 per cent less. Sometimes those things can happen.
“But still, we could make the difference: if you see the match, see the chances in the first half, we were three times alone on the goalkeeper and you have to score. If you score the goal - we had 70 per cent ball possession – and they have to come [out], you get more space and it becomes easier and easier.
“You have to score the first goal and we didn’t do it. But we have to deal with people. Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are very good and sometimes they are not so good.”
The UAE have little time to regroup, with Tuesday’s match against Syria in Amman now gaining added importance. Syria opened their Group A account also on Thursday night, losing 1-0 to pool favourites Iran in Tehran.
Van Marwijk, who guided Saudi Arabia to the 2018 World Cup, had preached the significance of beginning the final round on the right foot – the top two teams in the group book an automatic spot in Qatar 2022 – but said on Thursday that, despite the early frustration, there very much remained plenty to play for.
“We have to play 10 games, and this is the first, so we still have nine games,” he said. “We didn’t lose and we didn’t give away chances. So it must give the team trust that you score three or four goals, and that was normal if you see that game.
“We have a lot of faith and I trust the players. Nothing really happened, but I prefer to have three points - it makes everything easier. But until now this has nothing to do with the chances [of qualifying]."