UAE manager Rodolfo Arruabarrena has set out preparations for the national team’s crucial 2022 World Cup play-off against Australia this summer.
The UAE, seeking to qualify for only a second global finals in the country’s history, stand two matches from the Qatar tournament, with the first of what they hope will be two play-offs to take place in Doha on June 7.
The national team qualified for the play-offs by finishing third in Group A in the final round, which concluded with last month’s 1-0 victory against South Korea in Dubai. The winner of the June 7 encounter – Australia booked their place by finishing third in Group B – will then face Peru in a one-off game six days later, also in Doha. Peru were the fifth-placed side in Conmebol qualification.
In a press conference on Thursday at the Football Association headquarters in Dubai, Arruabarrena laid out plans for two training camps ahead of the clash with Australia: the first taking place in the emirate from May 24, one day following the conclusion of the 2021/22 Adnoc Pro League, with the team travelling to the Qatar capital on June 1. The players selected from Sharjah and Al Wahda will join the squad on May 28, the day after they contest the President’s Cup final in Al Ain.
Arruabarrena, who replaced Bert van Marwijk as manager in February and then guided the UAE through the final two final-round qualifiers, has requested the FA arrange a friendly in Dubai for the end of the domestic camp. The opponent is expected to be confirmed within the next 48 hours.
On Thursday, Arruabarrena expressed concerns about the physical condition of the players at this stage of the season, and especially those participating at present in the Asian Champions League group stages in Saudi Arabia.
However, the Argentine said: “I’m confident that we will reach the Australia match in the best shape possible. I trust the capabilities of the players, but we don't want to talk too much. We want to show our work on pitch.”
Arruabarrena, who previously managed in the UAE with Al Wasl and Shabab Al Ahli, welcomed the return to form of Omar Abdulrahman following his stellar displays for the latter in the Champions League. The 2016 Asian player of the year, 30, has not played for the national team since November 2019 because of injury.
“I met with a lot of players including Omar,” said Arruabarrena, who spent time this month in Saudi watching the UAE clubs compete. “Whether it's Omar or another player, they know what I need from them in order to be in the national team.
“I'm very happy to see Omar performing well after his injury. I will be even happier if he continues this in the coming matches. There is no doubt that his return is a great addition to UAE football.”
As for how the players will deal with the pressure of the play-offs – the UAE have not reached this stage of World Cup qualification since 2001 – Arruabarrena said: “We need to stay away and isolate ourselves from this pressure, because we are not a bad team. And we need to be realistic, just like how we won against South Korea. We have two matches coming and we need to focus only on that.”
Arruabarrena, 46, added: “I have been following the press in South America, and they are already saying that the [second] match is going to be between Australia and Peru.
“But we will try humbly to stop this from happening. We need to work as one team to reach our goal and participate in the World Cup after 30 years of absence. We are aiming to qualify. I trust my team in doing that.”