Bert van Marwijk is confident the UAE will embrace the “unique pressure” of Tuesday’s World Cup qualification decider against Vietnam, saying his team will have to perform at their highest level to reach the next round.
The national team, currently second in Group G, conclude their second-round campaign against the frontrunners at the Zabeel Stadium in Dubai knowing victory seals progression to the third and final stage. Vietnam, who defeated the UAE 1-0 in the corresponding fixture in Hanoi in November 2019, sit two points above their hosts. Only the group winners are guaranteed to advance.
Both sides have won all their matches since the campaign resumed on June 3, with the UAE taking nine points from nine and Vietnam triumphing in both their fixtures. Van Marwijk’s men could still advance as one of five best runners-up from the eight groups.
“I can remember the first time that I was here,” Van Marwijk told reporters at Monday's pre-match media briefing. “I sat here in this press conference and I said then our goal is to go to the next round - and that means that we have to win every game.
“There will be unique pressure. If you don’t feel the pressure you will not perform on the best level. Maybe some coaches try to get away from the pressure, but for myself, I need to also have the pressure.
"Only you must not have too much. When I see the players, I think there’s pressure but it’s a good pressure, a healthy pressure.”
The Group G finale pits the pool’s best defence - Vietnam have conceded two goals in seven matches - against comfortably its most-prolific attack. In the same period, the UAE have found the net 20 times.
Asked if his forward-thinking team would be just as attacking on Tuesday, Van Marwijk said: “I don’t know. The number of goals doesn’t interest me at all. For me, only the result counts tomorrow. And we try to do it with our best football.
“Because I love football, I like offensive football, I like to have the ball, and I like short combinations. But above all, I also like to win. For us that’s the most important thing.
“It will not be an easy game tomorrow. When I think of [November 2019], we were a little bit unlucky: an unlucky goal against us and we played an hour with 10 players.
“If I compare the team from then and now, we’ve maybe seven-eight different players. And the players who are still here have become stronger. So I think our team is better than last year. But still, it will be a very tough game for us. But we know what to do.”
Van Marwijk, who masterminded Saudi Arabia’s qualification to the 2018 World Cup, said he did not notice any difference in mood within the camp as the match with Vietnam approached.
“In my opinion, nothing changed,” he said. “The most important part was maybe the training camp before: we trained a lot for our style, for our way of playing, and also physical.
“And then we have to perform every game. We have to reach our own highest level. Until now, we are doing very well. For the rest, for my feeling, nothing changed.”
His opposite number, Park Hang-seo, will not be on the bench at the Zabeel Stadium having been sent to the stands in Friday’s 2-1 victory against Malaysia. Park said he expected that to have no bearing on the 2019 Asian Cup quarter-finalists, but that he does anticipate a sterner test than last time out against the UAE.
“Of course, in first game in Hanoi we won, but tomorrow will be different,” he said. “The UAE are a different team to the other that we defeated. They have improved a lot since, so tomorrow is a very difficult match.
"However, I want the players not to play for a draw but play to win the game and earn the leadership of the group.”