Dubai: Win and you’re in.
That’s how the UAE must approach Monday’s final Group A match with 24th Arabian Gulf Cup hosts Qatar.
Left to battle with their backs against the wall following a 2-0 defeat by Iraq in their second game, Bert van Marwijk’s UAE side will be looking to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at hosts Qatar when the two face off at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
Qatar’s Spanish coach Felix Sanchez has aptly hinted at the match being a quarter-final of sorts and urged his men to go for the jugular and the same will be expected from the Emiratis, who got their campaign off to a flier with Ali Mabkhout’s hat-trick enabling a 3-0 defeat of Yemen.
Conversely, Qatar rebounded from their opening 2-1 defeat by Iraq and steamrolled Yemen 6-0 in their previous game to get its campaign back on track. The UAE last faced Qatar in the semi-final of the AFC Asian Cup, hosted by them and were handed a 4-1 defeat by Sanchez’s men who went all the way in the competition.
Van Marwijk was not in charge then, but the Dutchman knows his men have their work cut out and that there is no option but to win as a share of the spoils will take Qatar through by virtue of a superior goal-difference. With one win apiece, both sides are on three points each with Qatar’s goal difference better than that of the UAE at 5-1.
Having secured six points, Iraq is the only side to have already qualified for the semis and will be expected to beat Yemen in their last group outing on Monday. Both group matches will kick off simultaneously at 6.30pm UAE time.
Van Marwijk, 66, said: “Qatar has players who have been playing for years with each other, and this was evident from their performance against Yemen. Our project started months ago with new players, but there have been positive developments and we know what we have to do.
“We haven’t trained enough because there was not enough time even before the start of the tournament. Our performance in the first half against Iraq was bad, but the performance improved in the second and if we play the same pattern against Qatar we will win.
“Mental preparation is very important and it is the basis of a good preparation, but we are here to play well and get good results. We have to win all the games, but that is the beginning of a young team.”
Qatar boss Sanchez harped along the same lines and said winning was his men’s only option. “We need all players to do well. It’s like playing the final so winning this game is the only thing on our minds right now. We want to reach the semi-finals,” Sanchez said.
Qatari defender Musab Khader added: “We are ready for this game because at every moment we are working to implement the coach’s plan, and we hope to win the match and get three points. The game will be difficult. For us, every match now is a like a final.”
While it remains to be seen who will finish top in Group A, Group B remains wide open with defending champions Oman currently sitting at the summit with four points followed by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, who have three points apiece having won once and lost once each.
— The writer is a sports journalist based in the UAE