Paulo Bento has named his UAE squad for this month’s opening 2026 World Cup qualifier double-header against Nepal and Bahrain.
The Portuguese coach, appointed in July, will begin his competitive tenure on November 16 with a home tie in Dubai against Nepal, before the national team travel to Bahrain to face their Gulf rivals five days later.
On Friday, the Football Association confirmed a 28-man list for the two matches, with the squad headlined by all-time leading goalscorer Ali Mabkhout. However, veteran Sharjah striker Sebastian Tagliabue, 38, was left out, with 20-year-old Al Ain forward Eisa Khalfan, still uncapped for the UAE, added to the attacking ranks.
Other call-ups with modest international inexperience include Al Jazira right-back Zayed Sultan, 22, Al Wasl left-back Abdulrahman Saleh, 24, and 18-year-old Al Ain midfielder Hazim Mohammed.
Wasl midfielder Ali Salmeen, meanwhile, returns to the international set-up having missed out recently through injury.
Bento, 54, will be seeking a fast start to the World Cup qualifiers, with the UAE drawn in Group H alongside Bahrain, Nepal and Yemen. Then latter two teams came through a play-off last month to make the second round of qualification.
The UAE will host Nepal at Al Maktoum Stadium before taking on Bahrain at the Bahrain National Stadium in Riffa. Having replaced Rodolfo Arruabarrena as manager, Bento is charged with masterminding the UAE's qualification for the World Cup and overseeing a strong 2023 Asian Cup tilt.
Although the UAE represents his first managerial experience in the Gulf, the former Sporting and Portugal head coach knows Asian football well. He guided South Korea to qualification for last year’s World Cup and then led the team to the knockout stages in Qatar, where they lost to Brazil.
The 2026 World Cup, to take place in the US, Canada and Mexico, has been expanded to 48 teams. The UAE have only once previously reached a global finals, in 1990.