UAE manager Bert van Marwijk says his players know exactly what is at stake in Tuesday’s pivotal World Cup qualifier against Lebanon, as both teams chase third spot in the group.
The UAE go into the match in Sidon still searching for a first win in the final round. At the halfway stage — the campaign is five rounds in — they sit second bottom in Group A, eight points off the automatic qualification spots for Qatar 2022 and two behind Lebanon in third.
Third place could yet provide a berth at next year's World Cup, although via a series of play-offs. At present, Lebanon sit in pole position for that spot, with Iraq one point worse off in fourth. Syria are rooted to the foot of the table, on two points, but they remain well in the hunt for the play-offs. On Tuesday, they host leaders Iran, with Iraq facing second-placed South Korea in Doha.
Speaking on Monday at the pre-match press conference in Sidon, Van Marwijk said: “I think everybody here of our team knows what to do, that there’s a chance to play for the third place. Lebanon have five points, we have three. So I think it’s very clear.”
The UAE are still without a number of key players for the match at the Saida Municipal Stadium. Regular captain Walid Abbas, who played in Thursday’s 1-0 defeat to South Korea, has joined on the sidelines fellow defenders Shaheen Abdulrahman, Mahmoud Khamis and Khalifa Al Hammadi.
In midfield, Van Marwijk must make do without Majed Hassan, Abdullah Ramadan and Khalfan Mubarak, while his attacking options are limited significantly by the absence of Fabio De Lima. The forward, who scored five goals in four second-round qualifiers in June, left the camp before the South Korea match because of a hamstring injury.
Lebanon, meanwhile, come into the match on the back of Thursday’s heartbreak against Iran. The hosts, the lowest-ranked team in the group at world No 92, were seemingly poised for a remarkable 1-0 victory against the perennial World Cup entrants, but conceded twice in injury-time to lose 2-1.
Lebanon opened their final-round campaign against the UAE in Dubai in September, where they held the home side to a 0-0 draw. Van Marwijk's men did, however, spurn numerous chances — most notably off-form striker Ali Mabkhout.
Asked on Monday about expecting a different match this time round with Lebanon, the Dutchman said: “You never see exactly the same games. The first game, we didn’t play bad. We just didn’t take our chances. But the way we played was good.
“Now every team has played five games. Yeah, the situation is what it is. Everywhere we play we play our own game, so we will do the same tomorrow.”
The UAE have only once previously qualified for a World Cup, in 1990, while Lebanon are yet to participate at a global finals. The two sides have met three times in World Cup qualification, with one victory apiece. During the 2014 second round, the UAE lost 3-1 in Beirut before avenging that defeat with a 4-2 victory in the reverse fixture in Abu Dhabi.
Van Marwijk, who has come in for considerable criticism of late, masterminded Saudi Arabia's qualification for the 2018 World Cup, although he did not take charge of the Gulf side for the tournament. Instead, he managed Australia in Russia. Also, he was a runner-up with the Netherlands in 2010.