UAE goalkeeper Ali Kasheif says team spirit was the key in his side reaching the final round of World Cup qualification.
The national team came through a gruelling schedule this month to keep alive their hopes of reaching Qatar 2022, winning all four matches within a 13-day period in Dubai.
The final victory, Tuesday's 3-2 win against Group G leaders Vietnam, sealed the UAE's progression as group winners as they concluded the campaign a point above the Southeast Asians.
The third round, which carries with it four guaranteed slots for the global finals, is slated to begin later this year. The UAE have only once previously competed at a World Cup, in 1990.
“Qualification was because of the spirit of the one team, and the cooperation and great solidarity between the players, the technical staff and the administrative bodies,” Khaseif said. “It was the result of distinguished teamwork, in which everyone participated. Each contributed to the achieving of our goal.
“The players were heroes in the four confrontations despite the pressure of the matches, and were able to reach the final stage of the World Cup qualifiers. Everyone was aware of the difficulty of the task and at the same time the importance of achieving the goal, so they fought hard. They gave everything they had to make the UAE fans happy.”
Restored to the line-up for the four qualifiers, Kasheif repaid the faith placed in him by manager Bert van Marwijk. The Al Jazira goalkeeper, who had lost his place to Al Ain’s Khalid Essa, was particularly decisive in the win against Indonesia last Friday, when he saved a penalty. The UAE went on to win 5-0.
Similarly to Kasheif, striker Ali Mabkhout praised the mentality of the players to come through the four qualifiers with maximum points, while also paying tribute to the role played by the Football Association, Van Marwijk and the coaching staff.
Mabkhout, the UAE’s record goal scorer, struck five times since the June 3 restart to end the second round at the top of its overall scoring charts, with 11 goals.
“The team achieved the most important objective, which is to qualify for the final stage of the World Cup qualifiers,” Mabkhout said. “The task was not easy, because the national team was required to win all matches to ensure topping the group.
“The great challenge faced by the players motivated them to give everything they had, and it was inspiring them to make every possible effort. I’m very happy everyone’s effort was rewarded by qualifying for the next round.”