Paulo Bento focused on World Cup, not own future, after UAE's Asian Cup exit

National team's last-16 elimination to Tajikistan on Sunday increases pressure on the manager

Powered by automated translation

UAE manager Paulo Bento would not be drawn on his future with the national team following Sunday’s Asian Cup exit to Tajikistan, saying the next focus is the 2026 World Cup qualifiers in March.

The UAE, semi-finalists in the past two editions of the continental competition, were beaten by the tournament debutants on penalties in the last 16, after the match at Khalifa International Stadium finished 1-1.

A goal down from 31 minutes, Khalifa Al Hammadi equalised for Bento’s side in the fifth minute of injury time. However, Caio Canedo’s spot-kick in the shootout was saved by Tajikistan goalkeeper Rustam Yatimov, and the Central Asians went on to prevail 5-3 to go through to Friday’s quarter-final.

Asked afterward if he was confident he would remain as UAE manager, Bento said: “When you lose usually comes that question – it is normal. My last concern is the confidence … I try to make the best, so the idea is to prepare the next two games for the qualifiers and try to keep our best in the qualifying phase. The rest is something that doesn’t concern me at this moment.”

Appointed last July, Bento guided the UAE to victories in their opening two World Cup qualifiers in November. The national team, attempting to reach only a second global finals in their history, resume their second-round campaign in March, with the Group H double-header against Yemen.

On Sunday’s defeat, Bento said his side had failed to control the match after losing key midfielder Abdullah Ramadan on 15 minutes to injury. The Portuguese said mistakes cost his side, especially in the second half, which allowed Tajikistan to create several chances to double their advantage.

"I said it would be a balanced game and that's what happened,” Bento said. “Sometimes we focus too much on teams that lose; in this case it's important we congratulate the opponent.

"They took advantage of their strengths, and we were not able to avoid that. I wish them the best of luck for the rest of the competition.

“Of course, congratulate our players as well for the effort they made and try to improve in the next game in the World Cup qualifiers. We have many things to improve.”

The UAE qualified for the knockouts in Qatar by finishing runner-up in their group on goal difference, but depart having won only one of four matches – the opener against Hong Kong.

From there, they drew with Palestine, lost to Iran and then were defeated in the shootout by Tajikistan.

“Everyone can say whatever they want – it is easier to compare with the recent past,” Bento said. “The question is now to analyse what we did and we need to say that we didn’t make a good competition, for sure.

“We reached the goal to go through to the knockout stage, but with too many mistakes. And, of course, with making too many mistakes in this kind of competition we are going to be punished. That is what happened today and in the previous game as well.”

The UAE’s Asian Cup was overshadowed somewhat by Bento's exclusion of star striker Ali Mabkhout. The country’s all-time leading goalscorer, who won the 2015 tournament's Golden Boot, did not feature despite travelling to Qatar with the team.

Mabkhout, 33, was an unused substitute in the first two group games, but was not included in the matchday squads for Iran or Tajikistan.

When asked before the last 16 about the frontman’s continued absence, Bento said he would choose only players who were committed to the team’s cause.

On Sunday night, following the UAE's elimination, a two-part question was put to Bento regarding missing Mabkhout on the pitch, and the coach’s future once more.

“I will try to make the best possible team and I know, but I already knew before, that we were going to find a lot of difficulties,” the former South Korea manager said. “And this competition confirmed that.

“It was important that we brought opportunities to some new players. They showed good [cases to be included] and this is important for the national team and for the country in the future.

“But, of course, we know that at the same time we need to reach good results. In this competition we are not so good.

"In the qualifiers, we have six points, we have two games in March, where we will try to make six points to make clear our qualification – this is the goal from now.”

Bento added: “Regarding the first question, to be honest, what I really miss is my daughters.”

Updated: January 29, 2024, 7:44 AM