Bert van Marwijk’s mixed 260-day tenure with the UAE was brought to an abrupt end on Wednesday night when he, stunningly, paid the price for painful Gulf Cup group-stage elimination at the hands of Qatar.
The beaten World Cup 2010 finalist with his native Netherlands had inked a deal in March that, if all targets were met, took him up to January 2023’s Asian Cup. This cycle was expected to feature progression through the World Cup 2022 qualifiers with a new breed of players after the ‘Golden Generation’ failed to fulfil their promise in the previous cycle.
Monday’s one-sided 4-2 loss to the hosts in Doha, however, terminated participation in the ongoing regional event, while successive defeats to Thailand and Vietnam mean the Whites face a serious challenge to emerge from the AFC’s second round on the long road to 2022.
These setbacks, combined with frustrations about squad selection and treatment of injured stars like 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman, caused the UAE Football Association to shockingly sack the revered 67-year-old and begin a hunt for their fourth permanent coach since March 2016 that they vowed will finish “in the upcoming days”.
“The UAE FA board members have decided to terminate the services of the national team head coach Bert van Marwijk,” read an official statement. “They extend their gratitude to the coach and his team of assistants for the period served with the national team.
“The new head coach will be announced in the upcoming days.”
The ex-Feyenoord, Borussia Dortmund and Hamburg tactician began his reign with August’s comprehensive friendly victories versus Dominican Republic (4-0) and Sri Lanka (5-1). Competitive wins at Malaysia (2-1) and versus Indonesia (5-0) then followed in the opening pair of qualifiers.
Momentum was checked, however, on October 21 when Ekanit Panya earned a deserved 2-1 victory for the Thais. Young Al Jazira centre-back Khalifa Al Hammadi’s early red card then doomed the Whites to a damaging 1-0 loss at Vietnam a month later.
A hat-trick from the prolific Ali Mabkhout – who netted 11 of 13 competitive goals scored under Van Marwijk – provided a 3-0 win versus Yemen when the Gulf Cup kicked off. But this elation was short lived.
Iraq eased to a 2-0 victory, before a win-or-bust Group A-showdown with Qatar went awry. This aforementioned setback proved intolerable to his UAE FA paymasters, who’d hailed his appointment as a masterstroke in the spring because of the previous rejuvenation job with Saudi Arabia that ended their 12-year absence from World Cups.
Van Marwijk did hand international debuts to the likes of Al Wasl winger Ali Saleh, Al Jazira midfielder Abdullah Ramadan and club-mate Mohammed Al Attas. He also did not seem, outwardly, aware of the parlous situation he found himself in when speaking about “positive developments” to media after the Qatar result.
He said: “Our project started months ago with new players, but there is a positive development despite the short preparation period.
“We have to work hard to achieve further development. Our project started a few months ago with new players, but there have been positive developments and we know what we have to do.”
The UAE sit fourth in Group G in the AFC’s second round, five points off leaders Thailand. Only top spot guarantees advancement as the nation aim to earn just a second World Cup berth – and first since 1990.
Their next confirmed fixture is March 26, 2020’s qualifier against Malaysia.
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