UAE manager Bert van Marwijk has announced his provisional squad for next month’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers in Dubai.
The national team resume their Group G campaign on June 3 against Malaysia, their first of four matches in 13 days. All fixtures take place in the emirate following the Asian Football Confederation’s decision to use centralised venues for the continent’s postponed qualifiers.
The majority of the UAE squad will meet in Dubai on Saturday – players from Shabab Al Ahli, Al Nasr and Al Wahda will join later given their upcoming club commitments – with a friendly against Jordan planned for May 24. The camp runs until May 31.
Van Marwijk named his 34-man squad on Tuesday, highlighted by the return of Al Ain midfielder Ahmed Barman and Al Wasl forward Ali Saleh, while promising Shabab Al Ahli youngster Harib Abdallah and Wahda counterpart Abdullah Hamad have also been included. Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa represents a notable absentee.
Meanwhile, Ahmed Khalil and Omar Abdulrahman, the 2015 and 2016 Asian player of the year respectively, continue to be unavailable for selection. Neither player, who both currently ply their trade at Shabab Al Ahli, has featured through injury since Van Marwijk returned as UAE manager in December. The squad is expected to be trimmed following Sunday's President's Cup final.
The UAE are currently fourth in Group G in the second round of qualification, five points off leaders Vietnam, although they hold a game in hand over the other four teams in the pool. After Malaysia, the national team face second-placed Thailand on June 7, then bottom side Indonesia four days later before concluding their campaign against Vietnam on June 15.
All the group’s outstanding fixtures – there remain eight matches to be played – will take place at either Wasl’s Zabeel Stadium or Nasr’s Al Maktoum Stadium.
Only the group winners are guaranteed to advance to the third and final round, alongside the four best runners-up from the eight groups. The UAE have only once previously appeared at a World Cup, in 1990.
As was reported earlier this month, the Football Association is assessing the return of fans to the venues for the qualifiers. The President's Cup final, hosted by Al Ain's Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, will be open to full vaccinated spectators at 30 per cent capacity. It marks the first time since February last year that a professional football fixture has welcomed fans.