Bert van Marwijk has described a "new energy" in his UAE squad as he seeks to negate a number of key absentees for Thursday’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Syria.
The national team, currently third in Group A with four matches remaining, take on the bottom side in the standings at Al Maktoum Stadium knowing victory will go some way to securing a play-off berth, at least. The UAE, who face leaders Iran away on Tuesday, sit eight points off the automatic qualification spots for Qatar 2022.
However, Van Marwijk goes into the Syria assignment without the likes of star striker Ali Mabkhout – the UAE’s all-time leading goalscorer remains unavailable - and injured forward Fabio De Lima, while playmaker Khalfan Mubarak and defender Shaheen Abdulrahman are also out. Principal full-back Bandar Al Ahbabi is suspended.
Speaking on Wednesday, Van Marwijk said: “The preparations until now went very well. There’s a good energy in the team; we have a very young squad at the moment. Everybody knows that we miss a lot of players, but I cannot change that situation.
“I’m happy with the players I work with now. We have confidence. Everybody knows - all the games in World Cup qualification are important - but this is an extremely important game.
“Everybody sees we are at this moment in the best position for third place. So we will fight for the three points. And, if we should win this game, then the situation is more positive for us.”
The UAE have not played a qualifier since last November, when they needed a late penalty to win 1-0 in Lebanon and register their victory of the final round. Although they have suffered only two defeats, goals have been hard to come by: in six matches, the UAE have scored four times.
On missing pivotal players, especially in attack, Van Marwijk said: “It’s not more difficult. As I said, there’s a lot of new energy in the team with the new players. It’s different.
“We miss players who can score goals, so we have to solve that problem - and that will not be easy. It’s important that the mentality is good, that we have a lot of discipline on the pitch, and also a lot of creativity and speed.
“Those are weapons and you need weapons. And we will see. It will not be easy to score goals, but we will do everything to get a good result.”
In the race for the play-off berth, the UAE have six points, one more than fourth-placed Lebanon, with Iraq another point further back. Syria, meanwhile, have two points.
Given the significance of Thursday’s game, the lack of experience in the team could be represent a concern, although Van Marwijk said: “Maybe. But that is also something I cannot change. I have confidence these players will be nervous in a good way. But not too nervous.”