The UAE are “100 per cent focused” on their hunt for a spot at the 2018 World Cup, according to centre-back Ismail Ahmed.
The Whites host lowly Malaysia tonight in Abu Dhabi as the second round of Asian Football Confederation qualifying restarts after June’s opening 1-0 victory against Timor-Leste.
There is a giant 98-place gap in the FIFA rankings between the nations competing at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, with Dollah Saleh’s visitors also coming off a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Palestine.
Speaking before the clash in the capital, Al Ain defender Ahmed declared his team-mates would be treating Harimau Malaya with the utmost respect.
He said: “We prepared for this match, it is very important for us and important for our future as we try to qualify for the World Cup in 2018. We have to depend on our capabilities and our abilities. We’re 100 per cent focused for the country to be part of Russia in four years’ time, so we have to be positive and concentrated only for the next match – which is Malaysia.”
The UAE are pursuing just a second entry into football’s grandest competition, previously gracing it in 1990.
A golden generation led by playmaker Omar Abdulrahman and hot-shot Ali Mabkhout are leading the charge, which comes after they finished a tremendous third in January’s Asian Cup.
Positive results are needed ahead of Tuesday’s difficult trip to Palestine as only top spot in Group A – which also contains regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia – guarantees progression to the next stage of qualifying.
Malaysia should provide few issues, coming into the match on a five-match winless streak.
“Nowadays there is no easy match in Asia or world football, all the national teams have improved in the past three or four years,” UAE boss Mahdi Ali replied, when asked about the impending opposition.
“We have to respect the Malaysia team, think about what they’re doing and what they can do. They lost against Palestine, but this is not an evaluation or an assessment of how they will perform.
“This game is important for us – we have to get the best out of our players. It’s an opportunity to score many goals, but we need to respect Malaysia. We must concentrate fully and score the first goal.”
The UAE’s form has been underwhelming of late against Asia’s minnows, a tight 1-0 warm-up win against Myanmar on Friday coming after the late triumph against Timor-Leste.
These muted displays provided a glimmer of hope for Malaysia boss Dollah Salleh.
He said: “We consider it’s a good time to play them but in terms of our team, we have problems with our preparations. I believe we cannot judge on results. I believe playing at home they have the best players in Asia. The most important thing is we have to perform and make sure it is not easy for the UAE to beat us.”
UAE (4-4-2): Essa; Fawzi, I. Ahmed, Salem, Al Menhali; O. Abdulrahman, Esmail, A. Abdulrahman, Al Hammadi; Khalil, Mabkhout
Malaysia (4-4-2): Fahmi; Kunanlan, Taj, Eldstal, Azmi; Akil, Rahim, Yahyah, Kalang Tie; Kumaahran, Muhammad
Where to watch
Stadium: Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium
TV: Abu Dhabi Sports HD
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