Bert van Marwijk says the UAE have no option but to win their remaining four World Cup qualifiers if they are to advance to the next round – starting on Thursday night against Malaysia.
The national team, currently fourth in Group G, resume their campaign at the Zabeel Stadium, kicking off a crammed 13-day period in Dubai in which they complete the second round of qualification. Only the group winners advance automatically to the next stage, alongside the four best runners-up.
Group G restarts following a 19-month hiatus, with the UAE still five points off leaders Vietnam. However, they have played a game less than the other four sides in the group.
The match against second-placed Malaysia – three points separate the two – represents the return fixture from their September 2019 encounter, where the UAE triumphed 2-1 in Kuala Lumpur.
“We worked very hard to prepare for this game because we all know that it’s a very, very important game for us,” said Van Marwijk, back in his second stint as manager, on Wednesday. “And we also only concentre on this game. We see it game-by-game, and we realise that we have to win everything to qualify for the next round.”
Asked how his team will handle the pressure of needing to glean maximum points from the four matches, the Dutchman said: “This is what it is. I cannot change that and we know it. And we already know for a long time. All the players and staff members – everybody – knows that to start we have to win.
“On the other side, you also need pressure to perform at the top. For the players I think it’s no problem. For me neither. I only think about the next match all the time, my whole life.
“Because I know if you want to perform well you cannot concentrate on more things. It is not easy, but on the other side there’s only one choice: we have to win.”
Van Marwijk, who masterminded Saudi Arabia's qualification to the 2018 World Cup, played down the fact the UAE play at home during the next two weeks – all qualifiers have been moved to centralised venues because of the pandemic – but he did welcome the return of spectators to attending the matches. Announced on Tuesday, the qualifiers are open to 30 per cent capacity.
Van Marwijk, reappointed in December having been dismissed a year previously after nine months in charge, said he has been impressed with his players' understanding of his philosophy.
“Results [in recent friendlies] say almost nothing to me, but I can see that the players become better and better," he said. "It will be very important for the match tomorrow, and I’m 100 per cent sure that everybody will do his utmost best. I also like the way we play. And you also need a little bit of luck.”