The UAE national football team know well the importance of resuming their postponed World Cup qualification campaign as they face off against Malaysia on Thursday, with defender Yousef Jaber saying the players realise the “size of the responsibility” to progress to the next round.
The national team, currently fourth in Group G, face four matches in 13 days as they attempt to turn around their quest to advance, with all the pool’s remaining eight qualifiers taking place in Dubai. Five points off leaders Vietnam, the UAE do have a game in hand over the rest of the group.
After Malaysia, who sit second, the UAE face third-placed Thailand on Monday and then bottom side Indonesia on June 11. They conclude the second round of qualification against Vietnam on June 15. All four matches will be staged at Al Wasl’s Zabeel Stadium.
Bert van Marwijk's men, the majority of whom have been in camp since May 15, impressed in their final two warm-up matches, defeating India 6-0 in March and Jordan 5-1 last week.
"The preparation programme is going well and the players realise the size of the responsibility entrusted to them,” Jaber said. “We strive to achieve our goals in qualifying, especially after the performance and the positive results in the last two friendly matches.
“Our confidence is unlimited in our capabilities as players, but at the same time we will deal very seriously with every match, starting with Malaysia on Thursday.
"I see that as the key to qualification, because the beginning is always very important – and the Malaysia team is one of the teams above us in the group. We approach this match very seriously. Respect for the opposing team is important in football.”
Gallery: UAE players in training
However, they suffered back-to-back defeats in the two months after, losing 2-1 in Thailand and 1-0 in Vietnam. Given the coronavirus pandemic – all eight groups are now hosted in centralised hubs – the UAE have not played a qualifier since.
Meanwhile, midfielder Khalfan Mubarak echoed Jaber’s sentiments that preparations have been going well, saying the physical and technical conditions as well as morale were “at their highest level”.
The Al Jazira playmaker said: "This situation was reflected in the performance in training during the camp as the competition is most intense to gain the confidence of the technical staff in order to make the starting line-up against Malaysia and the rest of matches that follow.
“The current stage in Emirati football is very important, because it's crucial in qualifying for the World Cup and the 2023 Asian Cup [as the matches serve as joint qualifiers]. The national team will give their best to fulfil the dream of qualifying.”
Only the group winners are guaranteed to progress to the third round, alongside the four best runners-up.