UAE squad gather to prepare for 2022 World Cup qualifiers

Manager Bert van Marwijk's side face four matches in 13 days

The UAE national team meet on Saturday to begin preparations for next month’s crucial 2022 World Cup qualifiers, with manager Bert van Marwijk having whittled down his final squad.

Currently fourth in Group G, the UAE face four matches in 13 days to round off the second round of qualification, beginning with the June 3 test against Malaysia in Dubai. They then take on Thailand on June 7, Indonesia four days later and Vietnam, the group leaders, on June 15.

All the group’s outstanding fixtures will be played in Dubai following the Asian Football Confederation’s decision earlier this year to use centralised venues amid the ongoing pandemic.

Seeking to qualify for only a second World Cup, the UAE sit five points off Vietnam, although they have played a match fewer than each of the other four teams in the group. Only the top side are guaranteed to progress to the third and final round of qualification, together with the four best runners-up from the eight groups.

Van Marwijk, back in his second stint as manager, had initially named a 34-man provisional squad for the qualifiers, which was released before the final round of the 2020/21 Arabian Gulf League on Tuesday. However, the Dutchman later trimmed the group to 28, with defenders Salem Rashid and Alhassan Saleh, midfielders Yahya Nader, Ahmed Barman and Yahya Al Ghassani, and forward Zayed Al Ameri dropping out.

The players from Shabab Al Ahli, Al Nasr and Al Wahda will join the squad following their respective club commitments during the next couple of days. Shabab Al Ahli and Nasr contest the President’s Cup final in Al Ain on Sunday, while on Saturday Wahda play their postponed Arabian Gulf League match against already-relegated Fujairah. With victory, the Abu Dhabi club can climb one spot in the standings to seventh.

The UAE are scheduled to meet Jordan in a friendly on May 24, at Al Wasl’s Zabeel Stadium. All Group G’s remaining fixtures next month – eight in total – will be staged at either the Zabeel Stadium or Nasr’s Al Maktoum Stadium.

The Football Association is assessing the return of fans for the qualifiers, with the President’s Cup final being used to trial having spectators in attendance. Open to fully vaccinated fans at 30 per cent capacity, the showpiece marks the first time since February last year that a professional football fixture has welcomed fans.

Published: May 15, 2021 12:38 PM

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