Fallen superstar Omar Abdulrahman’s timely return, the probable end of veteran forward Ismail Matar’s stellar UAE career and a welcome defensive shake-up headlined the 27-man training squad selected by coach Bert van Marwijk ahead of next month’s opening World Cup 2022 qualifier.
The Whites’ second-round commitments are scheduled to begin at Malaysia’s 87,411-capacity Bukit Jalil National Stadium on September 10. Essential fine-tuning in Bahrain from August 25-September 1 – featuring debut friendlies under the Dutchman against Sri Lanka (August 30) and Dominican Republic (August 31) – will precede the competitive action.
Here’s a review of the major issues sparked by the ex-Netherlands boss’ selection:
A BRIGHTER FUTURE?
Van Marwijk, as befitting a World Cup 2010 finalist, has been predictably bold since his March hiring.
Al Wasl’s teenage forward Ali Saleh, 19 and colt Sharjah midfielder Majed Suroor, 21, are among those to be rewarded after they impressed during last month’s first get-together in Austria.
The vivid reshaping of a diminished ‘Golden Generation’ that flunked World Cup 2018 qualification and crept into January 2019’s Asian Cup semi-finals is most stark in defence. Al Wahda centre-back Hamdan Al Kamali, 30, has been surprisingly reinstated more than two years since the last of 35 caps; he provides welcome experience alongside promising Al Jazira youngsters Mohamed Al Attas, 22, and 20-year-old Khalifa Al Hammadi.
In midfield, a changing of the guard continues.
Mahdi Ali-acolytes Khamis Esmail, Majed Hassan, Amer Abdulrahman and Mohamed Abdulrahman are conspicuously absent.
It is only in attack where familiarity reigns.
UAE National Team Lineup for Bahrain's Camp from 25th Aug - 1st Sep in preperations for the match against Malaysia on 10th Sep in Kuala-Lumpur under the Joint Qualifications of 2022 World Cup and Asia 2023#UAE_NT pic.twitter.com/qZUrG8DXh7— UAE NT (@uaent2019) August 21, 2019
Circumstance conspired in Salzburg to deny Van Marwijk essential time with Asian Cup 2015 top scorer Ali Mabkhout and 2016 AFC Player of the Year Amoory.
There will be no birth to attend for Mabkhout and distractions about Amoory’s future at Al Hilal were ended by a surprise switch to join the former at Jazira.
Getting the best out of this pair is pivotal to UAE hopes of earning a second-ever World Cup finals berth. It is something bemoaned predecessor Alberto Zaccheroni singularly failed to do.
END OF AN ERA
A final word must go to Matar.
Not even brilliance in defeat this month against Saudi Professional League holders Al Nassr during the 2019 AFC Champions League’s knockouts could sustain his place.
The 131-cap veteran forward has created eternal memories in White. He will, seemingly, at 36-years old not be making any more.
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