Sultan Adil
Sultan Adil was on the score sheet against Bahrain Image Credit: UAEFA

After wrapping up the second round of World Cup qualifying with a 1-1 draw against Bahrain, the UAE now have their sights firmly set on the next task at hand.

Despite falling behind to a Mahdi Abduljabbar goal after just four minutes at the Zabeel Stadium, the UAE maintained their unbeaten record in qualifying thanks to a Sultan Adil equaliser just six minutes later.

The result made it five wins from six in Group H, with the UAE scoring 16 and conceding just two goals in the process to ensure they topped Group H on 16 points from a possible 18.

While that remains an impressive record, the next round is set to offer a much sterner test for the UAE, who are looking to qualify for just their second World Cup appearance.

Paulo Bento’s side will now enter the third round of qualifying alongside 17 other teams from the Asian region, with six direct berths into the 2026 World Cup in America up for grabs for the top two teams in the three groups.

This campaign offers an additional two automatic qualifying spots in the third round compared to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar due to the fact the 2026 showpiece has been expanded from 32 teams to 48.

The UAE will find out their five third round opponents, who they will play home and away fixtures against from September 2024, later this month when the draw takes place in Kuala Lumpur on June 27.

Teams in the pot include Japan, the No.1 ranked Asian Football Confederation (AFC) side, South Korea, Australia, Uzbekistan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

While the top two teams from each group automatically qualifies for the World Cup, the third and fourth placed sides from the three groups advance to the fourth round.

The fourth round whittles down teams to two groups of three, with the leading team from each group securing a spot in the World Cup.

The two second placed teams will then compete against each other over two legs in the fifth round to determine who is the Asian representative for the play-off tournament, where six sides will fight it out for the final two places at the World Cup.

It will involve two teams from Concacaf (North, Central America and the Caribbean) and one team apiece from the AFC, CAF (Africa), CONMEBOL (South America) and OFC (Oceania) regions.

The four lowest-ranked nations meeting in the semi-finals, while the two highest-ranked teams will go directly into the finals. The winner of each final secures their spot in North America in two years’ time.

With the UAE being ranked the ninth highest team in the region, you’d like to think they have a great chance of securing one of the eight spots into the World Cup.

The task will not be an easy one, but with a new generation of UAE stars coming through the ranks, it’s set to be an exciting few years for fans of the national team.