A youthful UAE team land in Malaysia on Wednesday as preparations for their opening World Cup 2022 qualifier amplify.
Ex-Netherlands boss Bert van Marwijk enacted a bold generational change for last week’s opening friendly wins against Dominican Republic (4-0) and Sri Lanka (5-1) in Bahrain. There was also the welcome return of a familiar – and celebrated – face in Omar Abdulrahman.
Here, we analyse how the Whites are shaping up ahead of September 10’s clash at the 87,411-capacity Bukit Jalil National Stadium:
RISE OF THE ‘SHABAB’
Winds of change have, belatedly, blown away the dust that clogged Edgardo Bauza and Alberto Zaccheroni’s failed reigns.
Through a combination of choice and necessity, more than a third of beaten World Cup 2010 finalist Van Marwijk’s travelling squad (9/26) are aged 23 and under.
From this ‘shabab’ (youth in Arabic), some starlets shine brighter than others.
Al Jazira defenders Khalifa Al Hammadi and Mohammed Al Attas should provide the bedrock to any future success. Then, there is rousing Al Wasl forward Ali Saleh.
The superb goal on his first start against Sri Lanka showed why the 19-year-old is so highly spoken of.
A group is being formed that will, hopefully, carry the UAE through the long AFC process and onto a second-ever qualification.
After 315 days, one missed Asian Cup and an acrimonious departure for Al Jazira from Al Hilal, Amoory is back.
The 2016 AFC Player of the Year emerged as a second-half substitute in Saturday’s 5-1 dismantling of minnows Sri Lanka.
Full recovery from October 2018’s devastating knee injury is paramount. Deducing whether this includes being ready to start in Malaysia is Van Marwijk’s defining task ahead of next Tuesday.
In the fruitless 2018 process, Amoory got six assists in a 10-0 home thrashing of the same opponent and then scored in a 2-1 away win.
His class and know-how will be key at a bear-pit Bukit Jalil. Another serious setback, however, could end UAE hopes in the first game…
Former Manchester City and Spain striker Alvaro Negredo produced an audacious contender for goal of the season when Al Nasr kicked off their 2019/20 commitments with a 3-0 thrashing of Ittihad Kalba in the Arabian Gulf Cup.
Negredo, 34, conjured an artful turn to move inside the penalty box and then sent an unorthodox, outside-of-the-boot lob past stranded Tigers goalkeeper Jamal Ali to seal Friday’s Group A-walkover. Debutants Brandley Kuwas and Toze registered first-half goals versus opponents reduced to 10 men in the second half via Yaqoub Yousef’s red card.
Elsewhere in the pool, an entertaining 2-2 draw for Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club at Al Ain featured three converted penalties and a Henrique Luvannor bicycle kick for the visitors.
On Thursday, attacker Faisal Al Matroushi struck the season’s first goal as Al Jazira beat promoted Khor Fakkan 3-1.
In Group B, youngster Abdulla Anwar ably deputised for the injured star striker Sebastian Tagliabue as his brace earned a 3-1 triumph for Al Wahda over Fujairah.
The section’s two games on Thursday were headlined by a 2-0 victory for Bani Yas against Arabian Gulf League champions Sharjah. Spanish striker Pedro Conde got both goals.
It was scoreless in Ajman when they welcomed returning Hatta.
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.