Dubai: Following their hard-fought 2-1 win over Malaysia at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium on Tuesday night, UAE national team coach Bert Van Marwijk was full of praise over how his players clawed their way back into the game despite falling behind inside the first minute.
‘The Whites’ — top seeds in Group G for the World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers — were left reeling when Syafiq Ahmad’s header put Malaysia ahead moments after kick-off. Despite being under pressure for much of the first half, the UAE played the patient game and claimed a vital victory, thanks to two goals from Ali Mabkhout.
Van Marwijk hailed his men for not allowing the pressure of a boisterous home crowd get to them and kept their heads in a physical battle with their opponents.
“We started very bad, everybody could see that — after 40 seconds, 1-0 — and we were sleeping on the left side and also in the centre,” he said. “We couldn’t take a hold of the game the first half-hour. We found it very difficult to keep the ball.
“We were not defending tactically well on the left side. I tried to correct it during the game, but with this public at this stadium it was not easy.
“Every time they had one man extra on our left side, so we corrected that at the end of the first half. And in the second half we didn’t have that problem any more.
“At the beginning of the second half, we had our best part of the game. I saw that Malaysia were tired from the last game and the trip. And that was the moment that we had to score goals because we had three or four very big chances in the first 15 minutes of the second half.
“At the moment the Malaysia coach changed players they got more spirit and I didn’t expect it that the last part of the game they would come back. But we worked very hard and in the end we’re very happy to win here. Because I think there will not be many countries in this group winning here.”
The Dutch coach, who came in to replace Alberto Zaccheroni in March, also used the match to run the rule over some of his younger players, to see how they coped in a hostile atmosphere.
“You can only teach young players to play on this level by letting them play,” Van Marwijk said. “It’s always difficult because at the same time the result is very, very important. I’m happy the young players showed at the end of the game that they had a good performance.
“You saw in the second half they did much better. The easiest thing for a coach is when somebody in the team is not playing well, to change him directly. You can also think that they have a chance to improve.
“I didn’t think to change one of the players at half-time, because we didn’t pay well with 11 players. They had the chance to do it better in the second half and they did.”
Van Marwijk was given a further boost when star playmaker Omar Abdul Rahman came on for the final 20 minutes, making his first competitive appearance in almost 12 months out with a serious knee injury.