UAE manager Bert van Mawijk has lamented the condition of the pitch in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Syria, but backed his team to still perform in front of “dangerous” opponents in Jordan.
The national team are looking to rebound from last Thursday’s stalemate in their final-round opener against Lebanon, when they wasted a series of opportunities in Dubai to emerge with only a point.
The UAE have the chance for an almost-immediate response, though, when they take on their fellow West Asians in Amman. Syria, currently playing their home qualifiers at neutral venues, began Group A with a 1-0 defeat to Iran in Tehran. Only the top two teams in the pool will book a direct spot at Qatar 2022.
On Monday, when speaking to the gathered press in Amman, Van Marwijk highlighted his concerns regarding the pitch at the King Abdullah II Stadium. However, the Dutchman remains confident the UAE will overcome any obstacles to finally get their campaign up and running.
“The preparation is OK,” Van Marwijk said. “I’m disappointed in the conditions of the pitch, but also the conditions of the pitch where we have trained.
“But we knew that and we have to deal with it. We are professionals so we have prepared as well as possible, like we do all the time. The conditions of the pitch are very bad. It’s a pity, but I cannot change it. Things I cannot change I will not think about.
“And still I have a lot of confidence in my team because we can play football on every pitch.”
Van Marwijk hopes to be able to call upon Abdullah Ramadan to start on Tuesday after the Al Jazira midfielder could manage only 20 minutes off the bench against Lebanon because of a muscle injury.
That could represent the only change to the first XI from Thursday, with Ali Salmeen and Fabio De Lima both completing 90 minutes despite also suffering some injury issues in the lead-up to the match.
The UAE’s principal problem against Lebanon was in attack, where they spurned numerous chances in the first half to build a healthy lead.
Asked about bouncing back from the disappointment of the opener, Van Marwijk said: “I already said in the [post-match] press conference that, in the game against Lebanon, if you see all the statistics, they were all in our advantage. We had 70 per cent ball possession and we had nine against one in corners, and so on and so on.
“It was not our best match, but still we were the better team and we had a lot of chances to score. And if you don’t score you can’t win. That’s the situation. But if we are playing like that and we reach our normal level then we don’t have a problem.”
Still, Syria are expected to provide an even sterner test that Lebanon, with Van Marwijk saying: “I never say something about the opponent, but we respect every opponent - I say that all the time. We know they are dangerous for us. They are physically a very strong team.”
Sitting alongside Van Marwijk, goalkeeper Ali Khaseif vowed the UAE would “spare no effort” in the match, adding: “The confrontation with Syria is very important. We are required to obtain a positive result that will put our team at the heart of the competition.”
Meanwhile, Syria manager Nizar Mahrous said his side were determined to make up for their “undeserved” loss to Iran, telling the Asian Football Confederation’s official website: “It is imperative for us to win, to get the three points against the UAE.
“We need to bounce back from that result. We are ready; players and coaching staff are all raring to go again. The UAE are a good team with talented individuals, but we are playing in our adopted home and expect a lot of Syrian fans to be present in Amman.”
After Syria, the UAE host Iran and Iraq at home next month before travelling to face South Korea in November. All teams play each other home and away. While the top two sides progress automatically to the World Cup, third place must then negotiate a series of play-offs to make the finals.