AMMAN// Undiminished UAE coach Edgardo Bauza has “great confidence” his adopted nation can perform a miracle against Iraq on Tuesday and sneak into World Cup 2018, despite a plethora of big-name absentees.
The Whites have headed to Jordan bursting with enthusiasm after last week’s do-or-die 2-1 win against Saudi Arabia kept their push for next summer’s tournament, just about, alive into the last game of the third-and-final round. To stand any chance of infiltrating the top three, they must now thrash eliminated opponents, hope the Saudis and/or Australia are defeated in their engagements, plus pull off a gargantuan swing of at least six in goal difference.
This Herculean task has been stiffened by the unavailability through injury or suspension of key men such as 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman, Arabian Gulf League top scorer Ali Mabkhout and influential holding midfielder Khamis Esmail. But for the sanguine Bauza, for whom June’s debut 1-1 draw in Thailand appears increasingly costly, he was convinced a second-ever entry is still eminently possible.
“We know very well the importance of the game and the need to win it, despite the many absences in the team,” said the 59-year-old, who was dismissed by his native Argentine in April after eight miserable matches. “Such cases undoubtedly impact any team in our circumstances, but I have great confidence.
“I wanted to play with the same squad we played Saudi Arabia, but I say that the team has 27 players who are all qualified to play and represent the country. I hope that the team and its players will make it their day and we will succeed in winning the three points.
“Iraq are a strong team that includes players who combine experience and youth. They depend on their physical side and long balls.
“Through watching videos of them technically, we will work well to combat the team during the game in order to win.”
For the Lions of Mesopotamia, who were beaten 2-0 in Abu Dhabi under Mahdi Ali last November, they have been cast as wrecking balls for their opponents’ hopes at Amman International Stadium.
Since the summer arrival of coach Basim Qasim – who was part of the Iraq team who epically denied UAE a berth at World Cup 1986 – a marked improvement has been witnessed. A 1-1 draw was recorded against Group B-leaders Japan on his competitive debut and they beat Thailand 2-1 last Tuesday.
Columbus Crew forward Justin Meram struck in the latter match and he promised his country would be no walkovers.
“This match is going to be a difficult one, said the 28-year-old, who was born in the United States. “The UAE are a quality team with quality players, we must be prepared for that.
“We must defend very well and will give our all for our country.”
Elsewhere in the pool, the UAE will hope Japan will rouse themselves to beat the Saudis in Jeddah even though a sixth-successive finals place has been earned and the bottom-placed Thais can stun the Socceroos in Melbourne.
A top-two finish guarantees qualification, while the third-placed sides from each group will meet next month to earn a spot in November’s inter-confederation play-off versus a CONCACAF side.