A “very proud” Bert van Marwijk says he is confident the UAE have a bright future after they sealed progression to the final round of World Cup qualification.
The national team defeated Vietnam 3-2 in the Group G decider in Dubai on Tuesday night to usurp the Southeast Asians at the standings summit and advance as group winners. It meant the UAE won all four of their matches since the postponed campaign restarted on June 3 to eventually top the group by one point.
Van Marwijk’s side move on to Round 3, which at the moment is slated to begin later this year, where they will seek to become one the four from 12 teams to qualify for Qatar 2022. The draw is expected to be made within the next fortnight.
On Tuesday, the UAE were by far the dominant side against Vietnam in their final second-round clash, racing to a 3-0 lead shortly after half-time. However, they conceded twice late on, although the second goal came so deep into injury-time that Vietnam could not mount another attack.
“From the beginning, I already said it will not be an easy job, but it’s possible,” Van Marwijk said after securing qualification. “You have to win four games back-to-back. I’m very proud and we can be very proud with this team that they did it.
“Every game they convinced, and every game they showed football from a high level. And every game we were better than our opponents. Today was maybe our best game - we played so well in my opinion, exactly the way I like to play.
“But, still, I’m angry at the end, because I don’t like it at the end when you play so well and you make everybody proud... I wasn’t afraid that we would get a draw, but at 3-0, you must make it 4-0, 5-0. And now at the end it’s 3-2; 3-2 doesn’t say anything from what I saw on the pitch. If you play against better opponents then you may not make those mistakes.
“So I’m very happy with the performance and I’m unhappy with the last few minutes, the two mistakes. But I sit here satisfied as a coach. We must be very happy here, that we did it. This team has a future.”
Back in his second stint as manager, Van Marwijk thanked Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, president of the Football Association, FA vice-presidents Abdulla Al Junaibi and Yousef Al Sahlawi, and the federation for enabling the national team to prepare extensively for the postponed qualifiers. He also praised his own staff for their technical, tactical and physical work during the past six months.
Van Marwijk, a 2010 World Cup runner-up with the Netherlands and the manager who guided Saudi Arabia to the 2018 finals, was reappointed in December having spent nine months in the role initially from March 2019.
Asked how he would prepare for the next round of qualification, the Dutchman said: “Like we worked the last six months. And we go on with that mission and work hard. And keep playing in our own style and try to improve.
“This is a very good group, with a lot of young players. They have a future. I’m full of confidence with this team about the future.”
Ali Salmeen had opened the scoring for the UAE, with goals then coming from Ali Mabkhout and Mahmoud Khamis. Mabkhout concluded qualifying at the top of the scoring charts, with 11 goals.
Sitting alongside Van Marwijk at the post-match press conference – he was voted man of the match – Salmeen said: “We mentioned from the beginning that it will not be an easy mission for us. But we did everything we could and did the maximum possible to earn the full points of this group.
“We finished this competition by topping the group. I gift this win and this accomplished mission to the fans of the UAE as promised, and we promise to perform even better for them in the next round.”