UAE’s World Cup qualifier against Iraq ‘like a final’, says Walid Abbas

Fourth in Group B, Mahdi Ali’s side host resurgent Iraq at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium knowing anything less than victory would represent dent to aspirations of making Russia 2018, writes John McAuley.

Walid Abbas of UAE, right, and Keisuke Honda of Japan compete for the ball during their World Cup qualifier at Saitama Stadium on September 1. Etsuo Hara / Getty Images
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AL AIN // Walid Abbas has described Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Iraq as “like a final” as the UAE look to get back on track their quest to reach a second global finals.

Mahdi Ali’s side host a resurgent Iraq at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium knowing anything less than a victory would represent a serious dent to their aspirations of making Russia 2018.

The UAE currently sit fourth in Group B after four matches, two points off Australia in second place – the final automatic spot for the World Cup. Tuesday’s match against fifth-placed Iraq has already been deemed a must-win, especially following last month’s hugely damaging defeat to group leaders Saudi Arabia in Jeddah. The Saudis top the standings on 10 points, with the UAE on six.

Seeking to return to the starting line-up after last week’s goalscoring return in the friendly win against Bahrain, Abbas said his team need to bounce back from the Saudi disappointment if they are to maintain realistic hopes of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1990.

“All teams they want to win,” the left-back said. “We lost a game, but we still have six games to play. It was hard for us to lose 3-0, especially in Saudi Arabia.

“For us, Iraq is like a final. We have to work hard for that game and we hope to win. We hope to be better. We need to win.”

The Saudi defeat was particularly painful, given the manner of the loss and its subsequent fallout. The reverse increased the strain on manager Mahdi Ali, who was heavily criticised for the tactics employed.

Abbas is therefore well aware of the importance of the Iraq encounter, saying he and his teammates recognise exactly what is expected this week.

“It is not like pressure, you know?” he said. “When you need to win it is already a pressure, it is not like someone is pushing you and forcing you to win. It is a pressure for us to play the game. But we hope to win and we have to be better.”

Iraq constitute dangerous opponents, though. At 113th in Fifa’s world rankings, they stand 43 places below the UAE, however they lost only narrowly to Saudi and Japan in this third and final qualification stage for the World Cup before registering a comprehensive 4-0 victory against Thailand last time out.

They also have a number of their squad plying their trade outside the Gulf, principally Ali Adnan, the left-back currently at Serie A side Udinese. Meanwhile, in Al Nasr’s Mohannad Abdulraheem and Ahmed Ibrahim, the defender at Emirates club, they possess players employed at present by clubs in the Arabian Gulf League.

Abbas, who hopes his performance against Bahrain will convince Mahdi Ali to hand him a starting role, insists the UAE will not underestimate the challenge posed by Iraq.

“Of course they are dangerous,” he said. “They still have a chance to qualify – it will not be an easy game. Even some of their players play in Europe and they have experience.

“It is going to be a tough game for us. But we have to win, we don’t have a choice.”

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