The UAE must match last month’s memorable performance against South Korea in their quest to come through the 2022 World Cup play-offs and book a place at the global finals, says team manager Yasser Salem.
The national team, aiming to become only the second Emirati side to qualify for a World Cup, sit two matches from football’s showpiece event, with the first play-off to take place on June 7, against Australia in Doha. Should they win, the UAE will face Peru six days later for a place in the World Cup. That match also takes place in Qatar.
Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s side advanced to the play-offs by finishing third in Group A in the final round, sealing their spot with a 1-0 victory against group leaders South Korea in the finale in Dubai. It represented only Arruabarrena’s second match in charge.
Speaking on Thursday as the UAE set out preparations for the play-offs, Salem said: “We did a good job against South Korea, so we have to build on that performance for the next game. To play with confidence, with fight, with spirit; we don’t make ourselves small against Australia. Because we have a good example already against South Korea.”
The UAE will have two full weeks in training camp for the Australia game, with the squad meeting on May 24 – the day after the conclusion to the 2021/22 Adnoc Pro League season. Any players selected from Sharjah and Al Wahda will join the camp immediately following their clubs contesting the President’s Cup final on May 27.
The UAE also plan to play a friendly for May 30 or 31 – the opponent is expected to be confirmed this weekend – before travelling to Doha on June 1.
Asked how important it is for the players to fully grasp how close they are to qualifying for the World Cup, Salem said: “This is a very important point. We have to prepare the players for this, because we have to concentrate first on Australia only. Because the Australia game is the key for the next game.
“For us [as technical staff], we have prepared for the whole period, but the players have to concentrate on Australia only. You don’t want to make the mistake of Italy [in their World Cup play-off last month]. They thought about playing Portugal [in the decider] and lost the first game against North Macedonia.”
Salem added: “We have a strong game against Australia; we have to be ready for this game. This camp is very important in every way for the coach, and for us as management, in how to prepare the players physiologically. And also the medical team in terms of player recovery, especially because the camp comes at the end of the season, when in May they play lots of matches with pressure.”
Salem said the fact the play-offs are being staged in Qatar should be an advantage for the UAE.
“This good for us because it’s close for our fans, our supporters, to be with us,” he said. “The pitch will, I think, be air-conditioned, but also the weather, this is a good weapon that we have to use for this game.”