Dubai: UAE national coach Bert van Marwijk is convinced he has the right set of players to secure the top spot in World Cup 2022 qualifying Group G now that he has got to know his players better.
The Dutchman arrived in March — taking over after Alberto Zaccheroni’s contract expired following the Asian Cup — and the UAE warmed up for competitive action with two convincing victories over the Dominican Republic and Sri Lanka during a training camp in Bahrain last month that Van Marwijk used as an opportunity to familiarise himself with his men and build a relationship with them.
To further strengthen the bond, the UAE headed to Malaysia two weeks ago to prepare for Tuesday’s opening qualifier at the Bukit Jalil Nation Stadium. The UAE take on Malaysia — who defeated Indonesia 3-2 last week — at 4.45pm UAE time and are looking to get off to a winning start before next month’s double-header against Indonesia and Thailand.
The UAE have also been drawn against Vietnam in Group G and Van Marwijk is confident of progressing to the third round of qualifying now that he knows his players well.
“I like it, but maybe you have to ask the players if they like it,” the Dutchman said. “I don’t know the team very long. We had a training camp in July in Austria, not with the same squad — a lot of players, but not the same. So the last two weeks we were really working together.
“Everything is new. I am new for them and the other way around. But we worked very well and I like to work with them. You have to ask them if they have the same idea.”
Van Marwijk has plenty of World Cup experience, having helped Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands qualify for previous editions of the tournament, while also overseeing Australia during the tournament in Russia last summer. Now he is determined to take the UAE to only their second World Cup finals, their first coming back in 1990.
“When you are the coach of a national team the biggest problem is always that you don’t have the time to work together with your team,” Van Marwijk said. “It’s not the same as your club.
“Now we have worked together for two weeks, so I’m very happy. We don’t have more time, but for me this is enough to prepare for this game. We did the maximum for this game.”
Despite a comfortable looking group for the UAE, Van Marwijk is taking nothing for granted, starting with Malaysia.
“They have confidence,” he said. “We have analysed them very well. We were also in Indonesia. They put a lot of energy into the game and they play at a very high tempo. They have very technical, fast players.
“We have to be very concentrated and have patience. We must have a lot of discipline. I’m also confident in my own team. But it will not be easy.”
THE UAE received a confidence boost of their own on Monday when star playmaker Omar Abdul Rahman declared himself fit for action following almost 12 months on the sidelines with a knee injury.
“I’m ready — whenever the coach needs me to be in the game I will be there,” said the Al Jazira forward. “I’ve played already a friendly game in Bahrain. I hope we’re going to we get the three points. We — the players, the technical staff and administration staff — all know exactly the importance of this phase of qualifiers.
“The coach is already known to everybody. We played against him in a previous phase, when we played Saudi Arabia. Now he’s focusing on young players, good players, from the lower generations, which is something good.
“We have to take all these qualifiers step-by-step, not only the whole phase, but to focus on the Malaysia game first. This is the most important for us.”
Asian Zone World Cup 2022 qualifiers
Guam v Philippines, 9.30am
Mongolia v Tajikistan, 1pm
Chinese Taipei v Nepal, 3.10pm
Cambodia v Bahrain, 3.30pm
Singapore v Palestine, 3.45pm
Hong Kong v Iran, 4pm
Myanmar v Japan, 4.20pm
Indonesia v Thailand, 4.30pm
Malaysia v UAE, 4.45pm
Afghanistan v Bangladesh, 6pm
Turkmenistan v South Korea, 6pm
Sri Lanka v North Korea, 6pm
Maldives v China, 6.30pm
Kuwait v Australia, 7.30pm
Yemen v Saudi Arabia, 8pm
Qatar v India, 8.30pm