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.
The UAE squad landed in Jordan on Sunday amid the continuing absence of star player Omar Abdulrahman, as preparations for their free-scoring mission to make World Cup 2018 kicked up another gear.
The Whites will play Iraq on Tuesday when the third-and-final-qualifying round reaches its crescendo. Their essential 2-1 win against high-flying Saudi Arabia last week – gained without the injured 2016 AFC Player of the Year – means they remain, just, in the hunt for a second-ever participation.
Argentine coach Edgardo Bauza drilled his troops in the evening at Amman International Stadium knowing they must thrash eliminated opponents, hope Australia and/or the Saudis lose, plus elicit swings of either six or eight in goal difference if they are to gate crash Group B’s top three.
A 24-player party made the three-hour flight to the capital. Confirmation of the expected news that ‘Amoory’ would remain in Barcelona and recuperate from an ankle problem was provided before departure, but his brother Khaled – a left-back for Al Ain – made the journey as replacement for the banned Mahmoud Khamis of Al Nasr.
Suspensions have also hit influential Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club anchorman Khamis Esmail and prolific Al Jazira striker Ali Mabkhout – who produced a memorable leveller last week in Al Ain for his 35th goal from 52 internationals.
The Under-23 ranks have been raided for promising substitutes Mohammed Abdulbasit of Al Wahda and Ahmed Al Attas of Jazira.
The UAE’s unlikely bid to make next summer’s tournament in Russia will hinge on whether the third-placed Socceroos can be upset by bottom-placed Thailand in Melbourne or if Japan’s success last Thursday in securing a sixth-successive finals berth will quell their desire to defeat second-placed Saudi in Jeddah.
The Pro League Committee (PLC) have confirmed that the Arabian Gulf Super Cup between Al Jazira and Al Wahda will now be played in January 2018 following a request from the match organisers to postpone the fixture.
Arabian Gulf League champions Al Jazira and President’s Cup winners Al Wahda were scheduled to meet on September 15 at Cairo’s June 30 Stadium but the Abu Dhabi sides will now meet in the middle of the season.
No exact date has been finalised but Mohammed Kamel, chairman of Presentation Sports, who are responsible for organising the match, said the reason for postponement was to ensure they can deliver a spectacle football fans can enjoy.
“Our desire to deliver a highly- successful event is the main reason for rescheduling,” he said. “We will give our best to produce a match that meets the expectations of football fans in both countries.
“We are hoping to organise a more special edition and work hand in hand with the PLC and the clubs to produce a match that pleases everyone.
“Our perspective of the match is to promote Emirati football, which is why we preferred to reschedule the match because of some organisational and marketing issues. We are preparing a lot of surprises for Emirati and Egyptian fans”.
Yousef Mohammed Rasool Al Khoory, vice-president of the PLC executive office, revealed both teams agreed to the change, having held talks with Presentation Sports in the last week.
“We had a successful experience with Presentation Sports last season when they organised the Super Cup between Al Ahli and Al Jazira in Cairo and the match was a huge success,” said Al Khoory.
“These matches help expand the fan base of Emirati football and attract Egyptian fans in numbers to learn about the Arabian Gulf League and subsequently encourage Egyptian expats in UAE to follow our domestic competitions in the future.”