UAE manager Rodolfo Arruabarrena praised his players for their commitment in attempting to reach the 2022 World Cup following their play-off defeat to Australia in Qatar on Tuesday night.
The national team, bidding to become only the second Emirati side to make a global finals, were beaten 2-1 by Australia at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. Ajdin Hrustic’s deflected goal six minutes from time sealed victory for Australia, who now face Peru once more in Al Rayyan on Monday for a World Cup berth.
On Tuesday, the UAE had rebounded quickly from Jackson Irvine’s 53-minute opener through Caio Canedo’s strike four minutes later. However, Hrustic struck the winner late on, when his powerful volley was deflected into the UAE goal by midfielder Ali Salmeen.
The result means the UAE must wait another four years for a second World Cup appearance. The country’s solitary participation at football’s lead tournament came in 1990.
“The boys gave everything,” Arruabarrena said on Tuesday. “They have showed great professionalism during the past two weeks within the training camp and in the match tonight.
“This is the end of a chapter and we have to think about the future. We have a lot of young players and we need to keep improving and working hard.”
Appointed in February as successor to Bert van Marwijk, Arruabarrena was taking charge of only his third official match with the UAE. The Argentine, whose contract runs through until next year’s Asian Cup, was asked after Tuesday's loss if he expected to be criticised for the UAE’s inability to get past Australia.
“I’m the coach and I am accustomed to that, when the results don’t happen, there is criticism,” Arruabarrena said. “That is the life of any coach anywhere in the world.
“We had a good level for 75 minutes. All of the players were focused and, in general, the team played a good match. We were trying to find the weaknesses of Australia. Unfortunately, the result isn’t what we wanted. It is a blow, but we have to pick ourselves up and keep going.”
Arruabarrena added: “We had our moments and Australia had theirs. We dropped a little bit physically and in stamina in the last 15 minutes and started to lose balls that we weren’t losing before.”
As for Australia, manager Graham Arnold paid tribute to his side’s mental strength. The 2015 Asian champions now stand one match from a fifth successive World Cup. Last time out, to qualify for Russia 2018, they negotiated the play-offs successfully also.
“It's an Aussie trait," Arnold said. "The old Aussie DNA was backs to the wall, we liked being the underdog, and that was the way it used to be. But generations change in life.
“That’s what I have been driving into these boys. Sometimes you don’t play well but you can still win by fighting.”
Asked if he was satisfied with the night’s work, Arnold said: “I'm 50 per cent happy with our team … we all need to play better against Peru.”
Australia will look to recover quickly to get ready for Peru. The South Americans arrived in Doha on this weekend, but nevertheless will be considered favourites to seal a spot at the Qatar tournament.
“We need to improve more,” Arnold said. “The Jordan game [last week] was the first friendly game we have had for three years. There was an improvement tonight from the Jordan game, and I expect another big improvement after tonight’s game."