Bert van Marwijk says the UAE are ready to face one of the toughest teams in Group G as his side get set to battle both Thailand and the elements in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier near Bangkok.
The top two teams in the pool go head-to-head at the Thammasat Stadium in Rangsit, on the outskirts of the capital, with the UAE looking to maintain their 100 per cent start to qualification.
The national team arrive at the match buoyed by last Thursday's comprehensive 5-0 victory against Indonesia in Dubai, adding to the 2-1 win in last month's opener against Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.
Thailand, meanwhile, began with a goalless draw at home to Vietnam and then a 3-0 victory in Indonesia. Both those results came last month.
However, Van Marwijk does not have only a potentially fresher Thailand to contend with on Tuesday, but also inclement weather in the host country. On Monday night, yet more heavy rain forced the UAE to shift their training session to another venue.
“Until now the preparation went very well,” Van Marwijk said at the pre-match press conference inside the stadium. “I don’t know what will happen when I see the weather outside and I see the pitch.
“I don’t know; I’m not worried, but I’m anxious to know the weather [for tomorrow] because after this rain I don’t know what will happen with this pitch. Is the pitch used to this? Is the pitch OK tomorrow? I know that the Thailand team is training now on it so I hope we will have a good pitch that’s fine.”
Despite that, the UAE remain favourites for the fixture, given their recent rude health and that they rank 48 places higher than their rivals at 66th in the Fifa standings. Yet Thailand have proved testing opponents of late, with the past two meetings – the 2018 World Cup qualifier two years ago and the group match at this year’s Asian Cup – finishing 1-1.
The UAE, though, will take heart from the fact Thailand are missing two of their most influential players in playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin and midfielder Thitiphan Puangchan.
“We know Thailand as much as possible, almost everything,” Van Marwijk said. “Because we are always very well prepared. We analysed them very well. It will be a difficult game - we as well as Thailand are the best teams in this group. That’s why we are prepared very well.”
Like the UAE, Van Marwijk faced Thailand at the same stage of qualification for the last World Cup, when he was in charge of Saudi Arabia. Then, his team struggled to late 1-0 victory at home in the first encounter before winning more convincingly in the return match, 3-0 in Bangkok.
“It was a few years ago, so a lot of things have changed,” said Van Marwijk, who took the UAE reins only in March. “I’m the coach of a new team. Thailand also have changed, so this is a new situation.”
Van Marwijk has opted for the same starting XI in the two qualifiers thus far - his first two competitive matches as UAE manager - although there is an expectation that Omar Abdulrahman could be promoted to the first XI on Tuesday.
The Al Jazira playmaker, the 2016 Asian player of the year, featured as a second-half substitute against both Malaysia and Indonesia as he continues his comeback from serious knee injury.
Should he start, Abdulrahman will most likely take his place alongside club teammate Khalifa Al Hammadi, one of a number of new faces in the squad. The Jazira youngster, 20, has partner 22-year-old Mohammed Al Attas at the centre of defence for the opening two qualifiers and put in a strong showing last week against Indonesia - only his third competitive appearance for the UAE.
“We have prepared for this game just as we did for the game against Malaysia before,” said Al Hammadi as he sat alongside Van Marwijk. “But we consider each game different to the other.
“The most valuable thing is to play our way. I hope that we’re going to get out of the game with three points, which is the most important. We have started the qualification well and I hope we continue at the same level.”