Bert van Marwijk calls on UAE to show courage in crucial World Cup test in South Korea

National team, still winless in the final round, sit fourth in Group A, five points off Thursday's rivals

UAE manager Bert van Marwijk says his players must display enough mettle to play their own game in Thursday’s vital World Cup qualifier against South Korea - a side he rates as “maybe the best” in the group.

The UAE go into the match in Goyang still searching for a first win in the final round of qualification for Qatar 2022. After four matches, they sit fourth in Group A, five points off the two spots that guarantee a place in next year’s global finals and two behind Lebanon in third. South Korea occupy second, two points off leaders Iran, having won two and drawn two of their fixtures thus far.

In contrast, the UAE have three draws and one defeat, and are seeking to rebound from last month’s hugely disappointing double-header against Iran and Iraq, where they lost 1-0 and drew 2-2, respectively. Both matches were played at home. The UAE have only once qualified for a World Cup, in 1990.

Speaking at the pre-match press conference in Goyang on Wednesday, Van Marwijk said: “I have a lot of confidence in my team. I know we have to play against one of the best teams in this group, maybe the best. Everybody can see the difference in the world ranking: South Korea are 35 and we are 71.

“But, still, I have confidence. We can play good football and we must have the courage to play our own game here. And we will do that.”

The UAE arrived in South Korea on Friday, a move designed to allow the team sufficient time to acclimatise. The national team have suffered a succession of blows in injuries to key players, though, with confirmation on Tuesday that influential forward Fabio De Lima has been ruled out of both Thursday’s match and the away test against Lebanon next Tuesday.

The Al Wasl attacker, one of the stars of the second round of qualification, joins on the sidelines defenders Shaheen Abdulrahman, Mahmoud Khamis and Khalifa Al Hammadi, as well as midfielders Majed Hassan, Khalfan Mubarak and Abdullah Hamad.

Still, when asked on Wednesday about his team’s preparations, Van Marwijk said: “We prepare always the same way. We always have a good preparation. We were already here from Friday so we can acclimatise very well. That will not be an excuse.

“Everybody had jetlag; it’s five hours’ time difference. I’m happy with our hotel and we had a very good training pitch, so we could work very well for this game. And now I saw the main pitch here - it’s very, very good.”

Van Marwijk, who since last month's qualifiers has received the public backing of the Football Association, would not be drawn on South Korean’s rich array of talent. Paulo Bento’s side, attempting to reach the World Cup for a 10th successive time in the country’s history, are captained by Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min, while they also boast in-form Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Hwang Hee-chan.

“I never speak about the quality and the strength of the players of the opponent,” Van Marwijk said. “They have a strong team; that’s what we know.”

Thursday’s match will take place at Goyang Stadium, with 35,000 expected to attend following the lifting of restrictions regarding fans. Until this point, South Korea’s three home ties had been staged without supporters in attendance, as was their away qualifier in Iran last month.

Meanwhile, the UAE have had to come to terms quickly with the biting cold in Goyang – the temperature has dropped as low as 5C around the time of kick-off.

However, forward Caio Canedo said on Wednesday: “I think it won’t be a problem because, like the coach said, we’ve been here a couple of days and I guess all the players are getting used to it.

“We come here to play football. For us it doesn’t matter if it’s 10 people or 35,000. We have a game plan. We worked very well these couple of days.

“It’s no surprise to anyone that we need points. We respect a lot the South Korean team, but we came here to win the game.”

Updated: November 10th 2021, 11:57 AM