UAE captain Walid Abbas says his side will be able to cope with the pressure of Tuesday’s must-win World Cup play-off against Australia, as the country stand only two matches from a second appearance at the global finals.
The national team, currently in Doha as they prepare for the clash at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, take on their Australian counterparts knowing only victory will be enough to keep alive hopes of making Qatar 2022.
Should the UAE win on Tuesday, they will then face South American qualifiers Peru on June 13 at the same venue for a place at the World Cup.
Both the UAE and Australia reached the Asian play-off by finishing third in their respective groups in the third round of qualification. They last met one another at the 2019 Asian Cup on UAE soil, with the hosts winning 1-0 in Al Ain.
However, the UAE go into the latest encounter as underdogs: they are ranked more than 30 spots lower than Australia by Fifa, at No 73, while Tuesday's opponents are perennial qualifiers for the World Cup. The 2015 Asian champions, who defeated the UAE in the semi-final en route to the continental title, are bidding for a fifth successive global finals. The UAE's only participation at football's showpiece was in 1990.
Speaking in Doha on Sunday, 36-year-old defender Abbas said: “Our confidence in ourselves is great, and we have players who have enough international experience to deal with any pressure, especially since it is an equal match for both teams, so there is no preference for one team over another.
“But it is 90 minutes, in which the team most able in dealing with these pressures, and the most successful in exploiting opportunities, will win. I hope that my fellow players will be successful in that.”
The UAE have no doubt been buoyed by their victory in the group finale against South Korea in March, which sealed progression to the play-offs. The national team won 1-0 in Dubai, thanks to youngster Harib Abdallah’s second-half strike, at the same time inflicting the already qualified South Korea’s first defeat that campaign.
The match represented only the second in charge for manager Rodolfo Arruabarrena. The Argentine, who coached Dubai clubs Al Wasl and Shabab Al Ahli, is experiencing international management for the first time.
Nevertheless, Abbas highlighted the South Korea win as crucial to the UAE's chances against Australia, although he was keen to stress Tuesday's rivals should not be taken lightly.
"All the players of the national team are up to the challenge,” Abbas said. “Everyone believes in the team's ability to give a strong match against a strong competitor who are not to be underestimated.
“But the team received the necessary morale boost at the end of the qualifying campaign against South Korea last March, when we returned to the winning path.
“Everyone is thinking of the highly anticipated match against Australia as a cup final.”
The UAE should enjoy the majority of support on Tuesday, after the Football Association provided 5,000 match tickets for Emirati fans. Registration for the tickets was full by Thursday, with a number of planes since allocated, including one by FA president Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, to carry supporters to Doha.
“Indeed, the role of the national team’s fans is indispensable,” Abbas said. “We hope that we will win and make them happy, and certainly their presence and support for the team will have many benefits, especially in terms of instilling confidence in the players to provide their best on the pitch.”
Meanwhile, Swaidan Al Naboodah, vice-chairman of the FA’s National Teams Committee, said on Sunday: “The national team deserves support because it is the ambassador of the Emirati football, and it is one of our core responsibilities towards the team and its players, particularly since the Australia match requires more solidarity and cooperation."
Al Naboodah said morale within the squad in Doha – the UAE arrived late on Monday – was “at its best”, adding: “We hope that this will be reflected in the team’s performance against Australia, because the match will not be easy. The committee's confidence in the players has no limits.”