Paulo Bento satisfied after UAE maintain perfect record in 2026 World Cup qualifying

National team beat Yemen 2-1 on Thursday night to stay on track for the third round, although they were made to work for the victory

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Paulo Bento said he was pleased with the UAE’s win in their 2026 World Cup qualifier against Yemen, but called for his side to improve if they are to secure progress to the third round at the earliest opportunity next week.

The UAE resumed their Group H campaign on Thursday night with a 2-1 victory in Abu Dhabi, when an Ali Saleh penalty and a Sultan Adil header sandwiched Abdullah Idris' own goal 21 minutes from time.

The win maintained the UAE’s 100 per cent start to qualification – they defeated Nepal and Bahrain last November – and kept the national team top of the standings at the halfway stage.

Should the UAE triumph in the corresponding fixture with Yemen in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, they will book their place in the third round with two matches to spare.

However, Bento knows his side must put in a better display next week than they did at Al Nahyan Stadium.

“I’m a little bit more satisfied with the result than the performance,” the Portuguese said. “That was a regular performance with some good moments, especially in the beginning of the game. After the [opening] goal, our performance decreased a little bit and then, in the second half, in some moments there was a little lack of game control.

“We complicated the game with some unnecessary actions. But, at the end, we were able to score the second goal and decide the game. If you talk about opportunities to score, we could have scored more goals. But, in general, it was not a very good performance.

“The result, of course, is important because we are in a good position to go through to the next phase. But we need to improve for the next game, where we can decide the qualification.”

Competing for the first time since their disappointing Asian Cup last-16 exit in January, the UAE went ahead in the 24th minute when Saleh converted from the spot after full-back Zayed Sultan had been fouled in the Yemen area.

The visitors, though, grew into the game in the second half and equalised via Idris’ deflection from an Omar Al Dahi free-kick. It then fell to Adil to rescue the result for the UAE three minutes later, the 19-year-old striker powering home a header from Tahnoun Al Zaabi’s corner. The UAE also twice hit the woodwork.

Yet, with Yemen six points behind in the group in third – Bahrain sit second – and needing victory on Tuesday to keep alive hopes of advancing, Bento warned his players against any complacency in Dammam.

“The important thing is that, if we win, we will be qualified,” he said. “This is our goal. We will analyse this game, try to see what we can improve, what kind of changes we can make.

“And I’m not saying just about changing players, but change other aspects in our game. It’s important we talk about certain aspects we didn’t make so well in this game, and try to have in perspective what the opponent can do in the second match.

“It may be the last opportunity for them as well; we should expect a team that will try to do their best maybe in the last chance to qualify.

"For us, the most important is the result, but the result will come only if we try to play better than we played today - and if we understand better what we should be doing in many, many moments of the game.”

Updated: March 22, 2024, 7:56 AM