UAE looking at bigger picture in 2026 World Cup qualifier against Bahrain

National team have already secured qualification to next stage and will aim to maintain perfect record

The UAE defeated Nepal to make it five wins from five in Round 2 of 2026 World Cup qualifiers. Photo: UAE FA
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Although a place in the next phase has already been secured, UAE manager Paulo Bento says his team are determined to finish Round 2 of 2026 World Cup qualification with maximum points.

The national team, who booked their spot in the third and final round with two matches to spare, conclude their Group H campaign on Tuesday night at home to Bahrain.

Last Thursday’s 4-0 victory against Nepal made it five wins from five for the UAE, meaning they are guaranteed to finish top of the standings no matter the result at the Zabeel Stadium.

However, Bento insisted on Monday that his side will not be taking their foot off the pedal against their second-placed opponents – even if he is also looking at the bigger picture.

“Every match is a good opportunity to improve our style, our idea,” Bento said. “This is the most important for tomorrow. Of course, we think a little bit about the result, but a lot in the process.

“It’s a game that, if we talk about the positions in the table, it’s not going to change anything. We are already qualified. At the end, we will be in first position. But we will have other aspects to take into consideration.

“At the same time, we want to reach 18 points, which means that in this phase of qualifying we are among the small group who can do that, like Iraq, Australia and Japan.

“To do that we need to score, which will mean that we have scored in all the games in the group. We have the opportunity to have a clean sheet in five games (out) of six, which will be important.

“And of course, it’s important to make a good game, perform in the best possible way, attack to score and at the same time to defend well, don’t concede too many chances to the opponent.”

The UAE, seeking to reach only a second World Cup in the country’s history, defeated Bahrain 2-0 in the corresponding fixture last November – their Gulf neighbours’ only loss in this round.

Both teams have sealed their place in draw for the next phase, which takes place later this month.

“In all the games, the main goal should be compete as well as possible and as much as possible,” Bento said. “This means we should do everything we can to reach the three points and perform as well as possible and improve from the previous games.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know yet which starting XI we are going to use tomorrow because we have many, many things to take into consideration – but if we can bring some opportunities for the young players, we will do that.

“However, the main goal is to compete as much as we can and try to win the game and reach three more points, the 18 points I talked about in the beginning. We will try to do that, and I hope we can perform in the best possible way.”

Sitting alongside Bento at Monday’s press conference, fast-rising striker Sultan Adil said: “I’d like to thank all the players and ensure that the national team is well-prepared for the last match. We are hoping and working on finishing the group stage with 18 points and to proceed to the next round fully prepared.”

Despite turning 20 only last month, Adil has excelled on the international scene since his debut in March last year. The Al Ain frontman, who spent last season on loan at Ittihad Kalba, has scored in each of his past four senior-team appearances.

“I want to thank God for the support I get and also the coach and the players for all the mental and physical support I get from them,” Adil said. “I always try to work as hard as possible to achieve this. At the end of the day, when you work hard you get the reward.

“I represent the UAE and that gives me a lot of motivation to do my best for the national team.”

Meanwhile, Bahrain manager Dragan Talajic said of Tuesday’s clash: "We are coming here to try and play a good game and do the best we can. Inshallah, we will see.

“The UAE have a really nice team. In one perspective, maybe they have one of the best, if you take the young age of the players and how they are playing. It means tomorrow will be a tough game. It will be a good exam for us.”

Asked what impresses him most about the UAE, Talajic replied: “Bento has made them very organised; the wingers are very fast; in the middle some experienced players with some younger players, which is a good mix.

“Also, in defence, we don’t need to say anything: they have the goalkeeper from [Asian champions] Al Ain [Khalid Essa]. So, a really good team. And I wish them all the best for the next round of qualification. Just not for tomorrow.”

Updated: June 10, 2024, 12:24 PM