UAE manager Bert van Marwijk says he has not given up hope of automatic qualification to the World Cup following his side’s much-needed 1-0 victory against Lebanon on Tuesday.
The national team, attempting to reach a global finals for the second time in the country’s history, registered a first victory in six matches in the final round, with Ali Mabkhout’s penalty five minutes from time the difference in Sidon.
The win lifts the UAE to third in Group A, which offers a route to Qatar next year through a series of play-offs. With four matches remaining, Van Marwijk’s side sit on six points, one point ahead of fourth-placed Lebanon but eight points off South Korea in second.
Iran lead the way on 16 points. Only the top two teams are guaranteed a direct slot in the World Cup.
“If you saw our first three matches in this group, we missed a lot of chances,” Van Marwijk said. “And we could’ve had at least four points more. And now in this match we got the points.
“But if you look at that situation then we must have a big chance to get the third place. But we have to play four games — and I still don’t forget the second place.”
After six qualifiers in two and a half months, the UAE do not resume their campaign until late January, when they host bottom side Syria.
Tuesday’s victory was therefore essential to turn around their bid to reach the World Cup. Although the UAE were far from their best, Van Marwijk was delighted with getting the win in testing circumstances.
“We missed six players who normally play in the first XI,” the Dutchman said. “So that’s difficult. The circumstances before the game were not optimal, so the level of the game was also not really high.
“But I knew the longer the game went on the more chances we should have. And in the end, as we changed the team with a few substitutions, that made the difference.
“So we are very happy. Because now we are there to play for at least third place.”