Ali Mabkhout has not been included in the UAE’s provisional squad for the upcoming World Cup qualification double-header.
The striker, the country’s all-time leading scorer, was left off the 32-man list announced on Tuesday, with the national team to meet next week to begin to prepare for their matches against Syria and Iran.
Mabkhout, 31, has not played competitively since the UAE’s quarter-final exit at the Fifa Arab Cup on December 10 and has thus missed the past six matches for club side Al Jazira. He did not feature in Friday night’s Super Cup victory against Shabab Al Ahli.
The forward’s absence is a significant blow to manager Bert van Marwijk heading into the crucial pair of fixtures, against Syria at home on January 27 and Iran away five days later.
With four rounds remaining, the UAE sit third in Group A, eight points off South Korea in the first automatic qualification spot and 10 behind leaders Iran. Third remains the most likely route to Qatar, with the third-placed sides in each of the two Asian qualification groups meeting to decide who progresses to the play-off.
Although his form had been patchy, Mabkhout still leads the 2022 World Cup qualification scoring charts, with 14 goals overall. He has found the net three times during the final round, with his late penalty in the most recent qualifier against Lebanon in November breathing life back into the UAE’s campaign.
The squad released on Tuesday included a number of attacking options, with Fabio De Lima recalled following injury to join the likes of Caio Canedo, Sebastian Tagliabue, Zayed Al Ameri and Ali Saleh.
Previously injured Jazira playmaker Khalfan Mubarak and Shabab Al Ahli midfielder Majed Hassan are available once more, while there were fresh call-ups for Jazira full-back Abdullah Idrees, Sharjah defender Salem Sultan and Baniyas winger Suhail Al Nobi.
After Syria and Iran, the UAE round off the group in March, with a trip to Iraq before meeting South Korea at home. The play-offs are expected to take place in May and June. The UAE has only once previously qualified for a World Cup, in 1990.