The UAE squad has promised to bounce back from last week’s damaging defeat to Iran as they attempt to turn around their stuttering 2022 World Cup campaign.
The national team, seeking to reach only a second global finals in the country's history, were beaten 1-0 in Dubai on Thursday to remain winless through the opening three matches in the final round. As such, they slipped five points behind the automatic qualification spots for Qatar, with Iran topping Group A with three wins from three and South Korea currently in second, on seven points.
The UAE remain third, which would still offer a chance to reach the global finals via a series of play-offs. Bert van Marwijk’s side host fifth-placed Iraq on Tuesday, knowing victory is required should they retain any hope of a top-two berth.
Apologising first for the defeat to Iran, defender Shaheen Abdulrahman said: “Everyone understands the importance of the Iraq match, which is one of the fateful confrontations. Therefore, we have to be more determined in the next match, as we need to outperform our opponent to move a step forward in the standings and maintain our chances of qualifying.”
Abdulrahman conceded that Thursday’s loss, which came on the back of successive draws last month to begin the campaign, was difficult to take.
“Everyone is very sad about what happened, but us as players are not satisfied with the defeat and want to provide a better performance against Iraq. We have now put aside the loss and returned to training with great motivation to compensate in the next match.”
Abdulrahman’s sentiments were echoed by midfielder Abdullah Hamad. The Al Wahda youngster, 20, was making only his third appearance – and second start - for the UAE on Thursday, but emerged from the defeat with credit following another committed display.
Hamad said the technical staff had spoken specifically to the players to consign Thursday’s defeat to the past, adding that the squad understands the significance of responding with a victory on Tuesday.
Like the UAE, Iraq have yet to register a win in Group A. They were held to a goalless draw last week by Lebanon, meaning they sit equal with the UAE on two points.
"The next match against Iraq will not be easy in any way," Hamad said. "Our ambition is to win to return to the forefront again, but at the same time our opponent has the same motives and seeks to improve his position in the group.
“We have to work hard and compete hard, and I hope we will succeed in achieving the desired result."
Meanwhile, Tuesday’s other Group A fixtures feature leaders Iran hosting second-placed South Korea in Tehran, and bottom-team Syria playing their “home” tie with Lebanon in Amman, Jordan.