Bauza undeterred even as depleted UAE take on Iraq in must-win World Cup qualifier

Manager says focus is on beating Iraq despite World Cup bid depending on results from other games.

Al Ain, United Arab Emirates - August 29th, 2017: UAE manager Edgardo Bauza during the World Cup qualifying game between UAE v Saudi Arabia. Tuesday, August 29th, 2017 at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Edgardo Bauza says he has “great confidence” the UAE will get the victory against Iraq on Tuesday required to keep alive their World Cup dream – despite the fact their fate rests not in their hands.

The national team, sitting fourth in Group B, go into their final fixture holding only slender hopes of reaching Russia next summer, and have to defeat Iraq in Jordan and then hope for either Saudi Arabia or Australia to slip up in their matches.

It represents a highly unlikely set of circumstances, especially since the UAE need results to go their way and for a healthy swing in goal difference to stand any chance of even sealing a play-off spot. At present, Australia occupy that place, with the Saudis currently taking the second automatic berth. Both are three points better off than the UAE.

Bauza's task is made even more difficult given that his side face Iraq without a number of key players. Striker Ali Mabkhout, midfielder Khamis Esmail and left-back Mahmoud Khamis are suspended, while Asian player of the year Omar Abdulrahman and first-choice centre-back Ismail Ahmed are injured.

Even so, Bauza is trying to stay optimistic.

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"We know very well the importance of the game and the need to win it, despite the many absences in the team,” the Argentine said. “And such cases would undoubtedly affect any team in our circumstances. But I still have great confidence in the players to win the game, and in general the team is ready for this match.

“The calculations are difficult because they depend on the results of the others. However, we will forget those permutations during the game because our focus is on winning. We are also working to build a strong team for the future, for the Gulf Cup of Nations [in December] and the [2019] Asian Cup in the UAE.”

Bauza will be looking to build on last week's morale-boosting victory against Saudi Arabia. The UAE triumphed 2-1 at the Hazza bin Zayed in their penultimate Group B assignment to secure a first victory against their Gulf rivals in 10 years.

"I wanted to play with the same squad we played against Saudi Arabia, but I say that now the team has 27 players who are all qualified to play and represent the country,” Bauza said. “With the players' commitment during the game we will try to overcome the strengths of Iraq and reduce our weaknesses until we come out with a positive result.

"I hope the team will be in a good way and we will succeed in winning the three points.”

Also read: A look at how UAE have fared in their road to Russia

Placed fifth in the group and therefore without any chance of progression, Iraq are playing for little more than pride. They will be out for some revenge against the UAE, too, having lost 2-0 when the teams meet in the corresponding fixture in Abu Dhabi last November.

"Tomorrow’s match is going to be a difficult one,” Iraq forward Justin Meram said. “The UAE are a quality team with quality players, so we must be prepared for that. We must defend very well and we will give our all for our country.”