Ismail Matar takes part in training with the UAE squad. Courtesy UAE FA
Ismail Matar takes part in training with the UAE squad. Courtesy UAE FA

Ismail Matar hopeful of ‘exciting’ era for UAE under new manager Edgardo Bauza

DUBAI // Ismail Matar says the arrival of manager Edgardo Bauza marks an exciting new era for the UAE as they attempt to rescue their bid to qualify for next year’s World Cup.

The Argentine, 59, was installed as Mahdi Ali's successor earlier this month on a contract through to the 2019 Asian Cup, but has been charged with first helping the national team turn around their flagging quest to reach Russia 2018.

Bauza, who managed Argentina for eight months until he was dismissed in April, takes his UAE squad to Malaysia on Thursday for an external training camp ahead of their must-win qualifier against Thailand in Bangkok on June 13.


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With three matches remaining in the final stage of qualification, the UAE sit fourth in Group B, seven points off the automatic spots that guarantee a place at the global finals. They can still qualify via third place and a series of play-offs, though, a position currently occupied by Australia, with the Asian champions four points better off.

Matar has been training with Bauza at the Football Association’s headquarters in Dubai since last week, with the Al Ain and Al Ahli players joining the group last night following this week’s Asian Champions League commitments. The UAE were due to play a friendly on June 7 against Lebanon in Kuala Lumpur but the game was cancelled on Wednesday night at the request of the Lebanese FA.

“It is exciting to know a different type of coach, one from another country,” Matar said. “South American football is different to our game, but there are some similarities also. Sure, it has been a good experience these past few days. The coach still wants to understand the players and how we work.

“He has a short experience before in Saudi Arabia [with Al Nassr in 2009]. But we still need a lot of time with all the team together with the Al Ain and Al Ahli players after their games in the Champions League.

“And after that we’ll see how it works. We still have to get to know the coach, what his plan is and what system he wants to use. And also he wants to see the players and what kind of quality they have to put the best line-up to start against Thailand. Sure, he needs time. But in the few days working with him, everything is fine.”

Matar, 34, said he has enjoyed the initial sessions with Bauza, with some players cutting short post-season holidays to begin training last week. The group have worked on their fitness and defensive issues in particular, while the addition of the 14 players in total from Al Ain and Ahli on Wednesday will allow the new manager to introduce a more tactical emphasis.

With more than 100 caps for the UAE, Matar's knowledge of international football should prove vital during the next two weeks. The Al Wahda captain came into the camp on the back of success with his club in the President's Cup final on May 19, but his focus is now on contributing to the UAE getting their World Cup campaign back on track.

“Until now, it’s been difficult for the coach because more than half the team were playing in the Champions League, so it’s hard to work on tactics,” Matar said. “But he’s been giving advice to let the players know what he wants to work on when the team all comes together.

“We must put the effort in and in the end I hope we can succeed. The most important thing is the Thailand game and getting the three points.”

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