Bert van Marwijk backs 'much better' UAE to maintain World Cup qualification momentum

Hosts face Thailand on Monday after resuming Group G campaign with win over Malaysia

Bert van Marwijk is convinced his UAE side are much-improved from when they last faced Thailand, but conceded they must fully respect their opponents on Monday in their bid to reach the next round of World Cup qualification.

Van Marwijk’s men resumed their Group G campaign on Thursday with an impressive 4-0 victory against Malaysia in Dubai, lifting them to within two points of leaders Vietnam with three fixtures remaining.

The UAE now return to the Zabeel Stadium to take on third-placed Thailand, who drew 2-2 draw against Indonesia at the nearby Al Maktoum Stadium.

Thailand defeated Van Marwijk’s team 2-1 in the corresponding fixture in October 2019, before the Qualifiers were repeatedly postponed because of the pandemic.

However, the UAE have made a number of changes to the squad since, with Fabio De Lima, Caio Canedo and Sebastian Tagliabue having been granted Emirati citizenship. De Lima scored twice on competitive debut against Malaysia.

Meanwhile, midfielder Abdullah Ramadan has also made his international bow. The Al Jazira midfielder, sitting alongside Van Marwijk at Sunday’s pre-match press conference, starred last Thursday, creating two of the four goals.

“I think the team now is better,” Van Marwijk said. “They are physically stronger, and we have a few good players extra with De Lima and Caio, and my player next to me. He's developed very, very well, into one of the best players now in the UAE.

“And not only Ramadan and De Lima and Caio; all the players made very good progress. So if I compare our team to last year then I would say our team is much better.”

The win against Malaysia pulled the UAE’s campaign back on track and arrested a run of successive defeats. Sitting second, the national team meet bottom side Indonesia on Friday and then Vietnam four days later, in what promises to be a decisive encounter.

Vietnam resume their quest to make the third and final round of qualification – only the top team are sure to advance, together with the four best runners-up – against Indonesia on Monday at Al Maktoum Stadium. All remaining games in Group G are being played in Dubai.

“We have respect for all our opponents and especially for Thailand,” Van Marwijk said. “I can remember the game [in 2019], we lost there. I already told you last time here, if we want to be sure to go to the next round we have to win everything. So we have a lot of respect for our opponent. But we also have a lot of trust in ourselves. I’m looking forward to the game.”

If I compare our team to last year then I would say our team is much better

Van Marwijk

Asked whether he was more confident about progression following the Malaysia triumph, Van Marwijk said: “No, I was 75 per cent satisfied with our performance. So no, we are not satisfied yet.”

Ramadan, 23 and set to make only his second competitive appearance for the UAE, added: “The match is very important, as important as the match against Malaysia. We will try our best to make the best performance – we have to get out with the best possible result.”

As for Thailand, the draw against Indonesia represented a significant dent to their qualification hopes. All is not lost, though: still third, they are level on points with the UAE, although they have played a game more.

“Obviously, the result of the first game was a draw against Indonesia, when we weren’t 100 per cent ready for that match, but we did our best given the circumstances,” manager Akira Nishino said on Sunday. “It was disappointing to not get the win.

“I had the chance to watch the UAE against Malaysia and thought it was a great game by them. But, speaking from the perspective of today, I feel the players are more fit and ready compared to the conditions of the first game.

“From the last time we played the UAE, in Thailand, there is a lot of change, a lot of new players with good techniques, so that would be a good strength for the UAE. They have added some new players, some we have not faced yet. Those will be the players that we need to watch out for.”

Updated: June 6, 2021 10:53 PM

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