The UAE squad gather on Monday to begin preparations for this month’s decisive conclusion to the 2022 World Cup qualification group stage.
The national team, seeking to claim a route to Qatar via the play-offs, meet in Dubai as they train for the first time with new manager Rodolfo Arruabarrena. The Argentine, appointed last month as successor to Bert van Marwijk, named his final squad on Sunday for the double-header against Iraq in Baghdad on March 24 and South Korea in Dubai five days later.
With two matches in the final round remaining, the UAE sit third in Group A and therefore in pole position to secure its play-off spot. Iran and South Korea have already sealed the top two places that guarantee direct entry to the World Cup.
Should the UAE finish third in Group A, they would enter a play-off against the third-placed side in Group B – currently Australia – with the winner of that tie then progressing to the intercontinental play-off for a berth at the Middle East's first World Cup.
At present, the UAE are three points above Lebanon in fourth, with fifth-placed Iraq one point further back. The national team have only once previously appeared at a global finals, in 1990.
Arruabarrena named an initial 41-man squad last week for the group finale but has trimmed the group to 28 players. Among the most notable inclusions are Ali Mabkhout, the UAE’s all-time leading goalscorer who missed the two most recent qualifiers, veteran forward Ismail Matar and experienced goalkeepers Majed Nasser and Khalid Essa.
Ali Khaseif, the UAE’s regular No 1, has not been selected. In fact, both Nasser and Essa had been largely overlooked by Van Marwijk during this final round campaign. Meanwhile, forward Fabio De Lima remains sidelined through injury.
The UAE will train at Al Nasr’s Al Maktoum Stadium before leaving for Baghdad on March 22.