Now it is time for UAE to play with the big boys in Asia

Meeting with Iran is up next and Paul Oberjuerge says the UAE will need to maintain a certain winning combination to progress in Australia.

UAE's Ali Mabkhout, left, is challenged by Bahrain's Mohamed Hassan, centre, and Bahrain's Mohamed Duaij during their Asian Cup match at the Canberra Stadium on Thursday. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne
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The preliminaries are over. Mahdi Ali’s team have been lucky, they have been good, but they likely need to be both.

Iran on Monday. Perhaps Japan in the quarter-finals, with South Korea and Australia possible opponents after. Asia’s Big Kids. The ones who go to World Cups; all four were in Brazil over the summer.

The UAE side have in the bank Asian Cup victories over Qatar and Bahrain, Arabian Gulf neighbours who have had their days in the sun, but not in this tournament.

Qatar were overpowered 4-1, Bahrain were polite enough to put in a decisive own goal in the 74th minute on Thursday, and both will be on planes home on ­Tuesday.

So, Iran is left, with the top spot in Group C at stake.

Winning the group means avoiding holders Japan in the last eight. The Emiratis can finish top with a draw, thanks to a better goal differential, but Iran look the sort of side the UAE prefer not to play: big, strong, organised in defence and ­ill-tempered.

They also feature several players who gave a good accounting in Brazil last year.

They held Nigeria and were seconds away from doing the same to Argentina. Having seen Lionel Messi, they are not likely to be overly concerned about Omar Abdulrahman, aside from kicking him whenever possible.

The final predictable aspect of this match is that it will feel like home to Iran.

They were clear favourites among the big crowd in Sydney yesterday. About 40,000 Iranian expatriates live in Australia and many of them can be expected to find their way into the stands in Brisbane on Monday.

Despite being level with Iran on six points, the Emiratis will need to improve sharply if they want to keep that perfect record.

Two areas of concern re-emerged yesterday.

The first was a sort of ennui that overcomes the side after they score. They had a brilliant goal 14 seconds into the match yesterday, and it might have been the worst thing to happen to them because they seemed a bit bored by the next 89 minutes and 46 seconds.

The game became choppy and erratic, chances were squandered and far too many chances conceded.

The second is a looseness in defence. Jaycee John, the Bahrain striker, was a big problem for the UAE back four, particularly Hamdan Al Kamali, who was outjumped repeatedly, including on the corner that John headed into the goal.

Al Kamali was replaced on 80 minutes in favour of Ismail Matar, the Al Ain defender who was one of the three finalists for Asian Player of the Year, but he seemed shaky, too.

Mohammed Ahmed played 90 minutes, in place of club teammate Muhaned Salem, and he did not seem an improvement.

Against the teams lined up ahead of them, the Emiratis must be as good as they were versus Qatar and as lucky as they were against Bahrain.

It is much to ask but probably necessary for the semi-final run the FA have been talking about for two years.

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