UAE manager Paulo Bento said his side’s “biggest mistake” would be to underestimate Nepal when the pair kick off 2026 World Cup qualification against one another in Dubai on Thursday.
The national team, aiming to become only the second in Emirati football history to reach a global finals, get their campaign under way at Al Maktoum Stadium against the second lowest-ranked country in the 36-nation second round.
At 173rd in the Fifa standings, Nepal sit 104 spots below the UAE. Bahrain (83) and Yemen (156) make up the other two teams in Group H.
Asked on Wednesday if getting three points in his first competitive match with the UAE would be easy, Bento replied: “For sure, not. The biggest mistake we could make if we think like that. In my opening answer [of the press conference], one of the aspects I mentioned was the respect we should have for the opponent.
“It’s the first step, then to respect ourselves, respect the game, respect the people that will come, and it is the best way I know to compete.
“This is what we must do tomorrow: compete as much as possible and as well as possible, try to play well. We have an idea about how the game can be; we will try to make the game as good as we can for us.
“But, of course, on the other side, there will be a team that will want to compete, want to win, as well. And we should be aware of our opponent.
“Respect them, for sure, have the right attitude and the right ambition to start this qualification in the best possible way for us. It’s important we know we must perform well in tomorrow’s game."
Appointed in July, Bento has enjoyed a promising start to his UAE tenure, with the team winning all three friendlies since he succeeded Rodolfo Arruabarrena. The former Portugal and South Korea manager, who led the latter to the knockout stage of last year's World Cup, is pleased with what he has seen from his players during the past four months.
“The most important thing in the time we are working together was the capability to adapt with each other,” Bento said. “We had four camps, including this one. All four had different goals.
"So we arrive to this moment in better conditions. Our idea was to create a fingerprint for the team as fast as possible. As you know, all new processes need time, but sometimes we know we don’t have this time - especially the coach.
“We know the results in the past three matches were good, but we can’t just look at the results. We must look for the process, for the idea. Until now everything is going well, but with aspects to improve in our way of playing, our style.”
Bento added of the preparations for Nepal: “The attitude of the players was really, really good. So, the expectation is we start in the best possible way: reaching the three points.”