Bert van Marwijk will oversee his opening home World Cup 2022 qualifier on Thursday when the UAE host floundering Indonesia at Al Maktoum Stadium.
The Whites – playing their first competitive match in Dubai since November 2011 – are keen to build on an exciting 2-1 win in Malaysia when the second round kicked off.
Opponents Indonesia have experienced a brutal return after World Cup 2018’s ban, conceding a 97th-minute winner to bitter rivals Malaysia – amid riotous scenes at Jakarta’s Gelora Bung Karno Stadium – and being dismissed 3-0 by Thailand. They must conjure a surprise against hosts ranked 66th by FIFA, 101 places above them.
The extent of Amoory’s horrific knee injury has been laid bare.
When the 28-year-old crown prince of UAE football was, surprisingly, returned to the country by Al Jazira this August, an ebullient present at Al Ain was expected to instantly comeback. The trauma, however, from October 2018’s torn ligaments suffered at boyhood club Al Hilal, of Saudi Arabia, has clearly left its mark.
To date, no goals or assists have been recorded from one Arab Club Champions Cup start and three top-flight cameos. This gentle reintroduction was replicated with the UAE and a calming second-half run-out in Malaysia.
Expect to witness Van Marwijk – who labelled Amoory as “90 per cent” fit pre-match – offer decent second-half minutes against lowly Indonesia. Pass this test and a return to the XI may await at Thailand, in the section’s toughest tie, on Tuesday.
ARE THE KIDS ALRIGHT?
There was true bravery and genuine haste apparent in Van Marwijk’s opening competitive selection.
A quartet of Under-23 players took to the field against Malaysia, with 26-year-old Al Wahda midfielder Khalil Ibrahim also earning a first competitive cap. This evidenced a coach patently aware of the pressing need to enact generational change.
كُلنا خلف الأبيض في مباراته أمام منتخب إندونيسيا يوم الخميس الموافق 10 أكتوبر بإستاد آل مكتوم بنادي النصر الساعة 8 مساء ضمن التصفيات المشتركة المؤهلة إلى نهائيات كأس العالم 2022 ونهائيات كأس آسيا 2023 ..#منتخب_الإمارات#تصفيات_كأس_العالم #الإمارات_إندونيسيا pic.twitter.com/FAfNElkV1B— UAEFA (@uaefa_ae) October 6, 2019
This speed, however, almost backfired in a game from which the ramshackle Whites conceded within a minute.
Van Marwijk, as a World Cup 2010 finalist, will retain his convictions. But do not be surprised to see Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club’s Walid Abbas, 34, move inside from left-back, while Al Ain’s Bandar Al Ahbabi, 29, looks set for right wing.
IN NEED OF AN UPSET
A different kind of pressure is at play for Indonesia.
Coach Simon McMenemy anticipated a formative experience in Dubai for a team looking to “improve as a nation and improve our football” after being banned through the previous global process.
Wounds were opened in the Malaysia collapse and the Englishman’s squad has been tweaked. Will a potential benching of captain and goalkeeper Andritany Ardhiyasa avert, or induce, a massacre?
Bert van Marwijk has led teams, to victory and defeat, in UEFA Cup and World Cup finals.
He’s, successfully, weathered overbearing Saudi Arabian expectation about engineering a return to the global stage. Plus, felt intolerable strain during inescapable tailspins at two of Germany’s iconic clubs.
Impending second-round World Cup 2022 qualifiers against Indonesia and Malaysia for the UAE should pale into insignificance when cast against those imposing previous challenges. These, however, are defining days in what is likely the final posting of a celebrated 21-year managerial career.
If the unconvincing opening win at Malaysia is followed by dropped points in the double-header, anxiety about long-term regression and elusive World Cup ambitions will grow.
These fears and faults consumed immediate predecessors Mahdi Ali, Edgardo Bauza and Alberto Zaccheroni. The latest incumbent must ensure they do not reach critical mass.
Narrative can be an unappreciated force in football. Control of it helped carry Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to the permanent hot seat as guardian of the “United Way”, while its devastating loss amplifies every setback suffered by the “out of his depth” custodian from the red half of Manchester.
No-one from the Emirates can legitimately question Van Marwijk’s curriculum vitae. They could, however, feverishly debate his enduring suitability to oversee a broad generational change, while remaining competitive on the pitch, if initial slip-ups occur.
Victories on Thursday against Indonesia at Dubai’s Al Maktoum Stadium and Thailand’s Thammasat Stadium the following Tuesday would generate a wave of positivity. The latter fixture, in particular, is a bellwether for how this qualifying cycle may turnout for coach and team.
Last month’s trying 2-1 victory in Malaysia was earned by a bold selection stocked with international rookies. Only four players survived from the preceding competitive XI, a semi-final defeat on home soil at January 2019’s Asian Cup under the maligned Zaccheroni.
Creditable faith was exhibited at Bukit Jalil National Stadium in emerging Al Jazira centre-backs Mohammed Al Attas and Khalifa Al Hammadi.
Wingers Jassem Yaqoub, 22, and Ali Saleh, 19, of Al Nasr and Al Wasl made competitive bows. Improved Al Wahda midfielder Khalil Ibrahim, 26, was chosen after he gained an opening international cap only in August.
This investment in time will need to see further returns in October’s international break – and beyond.
Van Marwijk will be buoyed by a win amid adversity in Malaysia. His side had to rebound from a first-minute concession, while celebrated second-half substitute Omar Abdulrahman was playing his first competitive minutes since October 2018’s devastating knee injury.
A gentle rehabilitation for the inspirational 2016 AFC Player of the Year has witnessed three subsequent Arabian Gulf League cameos, plus his start in the Arab Club Champions Cup versus Oman’s Al Nasr.
2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil missed out on the Malaysia date, yet is back in the fold. The injury prone forward has so often fulfilled the role of national saviour in a decade of international service.
Immediate opponents Indonesia recorded successive home losses to neighbours Malaysia – amid riotous scenes – and Thailand last month, making it a painful return to qualifying after being banned on the Road to Russia.
The trip to Thailand, in contrast, should be the most-stringent test in Group G.
June 2017’s desperate 1-1 draw at Rajamangala Stadium, under Bauza, effectively ended dreams of making World Cup 2018. The same scoreline rounded out Group A commitments at this year’s Asian Cup.
A boost for the UAE, however, comes with the enforced withdrawal of acclaimed Consadole Sapporo playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin.
Reasons to be cheerful, then, for Van Marwijk. He must remain the author of his own destiny.
Round 3 of the 2019/20 Arabian Gulf League delivered several stellar displays, at both ends of the table.
Champions Sharjah earned a dramatic 3-2 victory against Al Ain thanks to another dose of Igor Coronado magic, while Ajman’s outstanding start continued with a 1-0 win at floundering Al Wasl. An acrobatic strike from Abdullah Al Seiari also earned promoted Hatta an opening win of the season, to the detriment of Ittihad Kalba.
Here are Sport360°’s top picks and a talking point:
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Igor Coronado (Sharjah)
Fresh superlatives run in short supply when the Brazilian playmaker is involved.
The reigning Foreign Player of the Year ran rings around Al Ain in a valuable 3-2 win – literally speaking on his way to forcing a fine first-half save. His penalty was expertly dispatched and the first-time hit from 20 yards that made it 2-2 utterly divine.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
Abdullah Al Seiari (Hatta)
A moment of genuine inspiration earned promoted Hatta a first three points of the campaign.
There seemed little on when Mahmood Qassim lopped a hopeful cross in. But Al Seiari wheeled off the last man and struck a stupendous bicycle kick to inflict a 1-0 defeat on managerless Ittihad Kalba.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Ayman El Ramady (Ajman)
These are historic times for the Orange Brigade.
A return of seven points from three matches is their best-ever start in the top flight – and El Ramady, in his fourth season, has engineered it.
Added value came from late summer addition Bubacarr Trawally lashing the only goal into the bottom corner against awful Al Wasl.
JAZIRA SHOW THEIR METTLE
A flood of goals were expected when title pretenders Al Jazira and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club met.
That a goalless draw followed actually spoke volumes about the host’s improved hopes this term. They had conceded a punishing 41 times in 26 top-flight games last term, draining points away after a vibrant start to finish fifth.
Serbia centre-back Milos Kosanovic already resembles the division’s smartest signing of the summer, while youngsters Mohammed Al Attas and Khalifa Al Hammadi have matured nicely. These players are perfect compliments to a vibrant attack.