Dubai: UAE coach Edgardo Bauza has challenged the ‘Whites’ to win their remaining two 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Saudi Arabia and Iraq despite having next to no chance of reaching Russia next summer.
A 1-1 draw away to Thailand in June in Bauza’s first competitive game in charge more or less put paid to the UAE’s chances leaving them six points off qualification with two games remaining and a prohibitive goal difference.
They now face Saudi in Al Ain next Tuesday (August 29) and Iraq in Jordan on September 5, knowing that even two wins probably won’t be enough to reach their second World Cup since 1990.
Nevertheless, the Argentine is asking his players to ignore the variables and play for pride in order to move on from his indifferent opener and begin building for the UAE’s hosting of the Asian Cup in 2019.
“We want to use home advantage to restore a winning streak,” he told the press on the sidelines of a training session at Al Khawaneej this week.
“This is very necessary to build upon for the next stage, regardless of our chances of qualifying.
“The next period requires more effort and continuous work to prepare a competitive team for all tournaments especially the 2019 Asian Cup, which will be held in the UAE.
“I do not fear anyone, be it Saudi Arabia or Iraq. Our focus will be on beating Saudi before we turn our attentions to Iraq. We won’t think about qualifying but winning and nothing else.”
Bauza’s almost unchanged squad selection for Saudi and Iraq from the one that drew with Thailand brought the ire of those who felt it was time to mix things up and give younger players a chance, especially as the UAE had nothing to lose. However, the Argentine argued he hasn’t had enough time to vet alternatives.
“I’ve not had the chance to see any games because the league hasn’t started, but after it starts the door will be open to any player.
“The biggest drawback is the lack of time and scarcity of gatherings, where I would have had the best chance to prepare players.
“We had planned to set up a preparatory camp in Europe this summer but it was cancelled because clubs are on camp and Al Ain are into the quarter-finals of the Asian Champions League, so preparation will be internal and for 11 days and that — I think — is a good enough time to prepare for Saudi.”