Dubai: The process of rebuilding starts now and coach Bert van Marwijk knows he has his task cut out after pinpointing the reasons that led to the UAE’s exit from the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup in Qatar at the group stage.
There were numerous positives with the UAE’s topscorer in international football — Ali Mabkhout’s form perhaps the best piece of news to emerge from the campaign, but that’s not the only thing that would have excited the UAE’s Dutch manager.
Van Marwijk witnessed his young UAE side put on one of their best recent performances in the international arena in Doha against two of Asia’s big names — with whom they found themselves drawn in a tough Group A.
Hosts and AFC Asian Cup winners Qatar and Iraq were always going to pose a threat to their chances of qualifying to the knockout phase, but after a 3-0 defeat of Yemen in their opening game, an extension seemed very much likely.
The 24th Arabian Gulf Cup was Van Marwijk’s first main assignment since his appointment in March and he would have used the tournament to further assess his squad as he looks to build towards the future in their bid to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
The UAE didn’t have enough time to plan for the Gulf Cup, with a three-day camp definitely not enough to get tactics in order. The Whites also missed out on the services of some of their stalwarts like the injured Omar Abdul Rahman with Hamdan Al Kamali and Yousef Jaber also missing after the game against Yemen.
Van Marwijk had admitted to having had no time to prepare for the tournament when he said: “There was no time for preparations because we had only two days to recover from the first match and then play a game two days later. We trained hard the week before in Dubai so we are physically prepared for the tournament, now we only have to get the tactical part.”
Speaking of the UAE’s performance in the tournament, Van Marwijk added: “We conceded goals too easily at crucial moments against Qatar. We lost to a strong team, who are the champions of Asia. They have been playing together for a long time. Unfortunately, a few of our players were injured and couldn’t play, we were also a bit unlucky.”
Van Marwijk is now looking forward to the future with utmost optimism. “Our project started months ago with new players, but there is a positive development despite the short preparation period,” said the 67-year-old former Netherlands and Australia manager.
“We have to work hard to achieve further development. Our project started a few months ago with new players, but there have been positive developments and we know what we have to do.”
— The writer is a sports journalist based in the UAE