The hosts will go all-out against the Blue Tigers on 29th March.
After an eventful Indian Super League season, the Indian players are now on national team duty, as they gear up to face two Asian heavyweights in Oman and the United Arab Emirates in friendly encounters. Igor Stimac’s men have setup camp in Dubai and will first face Oman followed by the UAE on 29th March 2021.
It will be a huge challenge for the Blue Tigers to face these quality sides, especially after such a long gap from international football. Just like India, the UAE also have not played much international football, as they only played a match against Iraq since featuring in the Gulf Cup in 2019.
Bert van Marwijk’s team have not had a great time at the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers, as they are fourth in the group table, losing matches to Thailand and Vietnam. The Whites only managed to edge past Malaysia in a close encounter and got the better of Indonesia.
The performances were not pleasing even at the Gulf Cup, where they lost against Iraq and Qatar and could only beat Yemen. As a result, the UAE crashed out of the group stage.
About the Team
The UAE national team’s best performance came at the AFC Asian Cup 2019, where they topped their group undefeated. They went on to win a dramatic clash against the Kyrgyz Republic in extra-time to setup a clash against Australia.
The hosts were confident and carried that form to upset the Socceroos 1-0, which was the UAE’s first win against the Aussies. However, their dream run was snapped by eventual winners Qatar in the semi-finals.
Since then, a lot has changed as Alberto Zaccheroni was replaced by experienced Dutchman Bert van Marwijk. The veteran failed to produce the desired results, as the UAE lost back-to-back World Cup Qualifiers against Thailand and Vietnam, followed by a group stage exit from the Gulf Cup. Therefore, the 68-year old was sacked after less than nine months in-charge.
The current UAE side are going through a transition, as they look to letgo of some of their veterans and introduce some youngsters who can take the team ahead.
After trying out several options in Serbia’s Ivan Jovanovic and Colombia’s Jorge Luis Pinto, the UAE management decided to reinstate Bert van Marwijk as the national team head coach. The Dutchman was re-appointed after being sacked only a year ago.
The decision was taken mostly on the basis of Van Marwijk’s record in his long and illustrious managerial career. He was the one to lead the Netherlands to the final of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The former Feyenoord manager also guided Saudi Arabia to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but left the job prior to the tournament as his contract expired. Apart from national teams, Van Marwijk has managed clubs like Borussia Dortmund and Hamburger SV and has 25 years of managerial experience. He would be determined to do well in his second stint with the Whites.
Players to Watch
The Emirati marksman is undoubtedly one of the best forwards in Asia right now. Ali Mabkhout belongs to the much-appreciated ‘Golden Generation’ of UAE football. Unlike Omar Abdulrahman and Ahmed Khalil, Mabkhout is still going strong and scoring for fun. He is currently the second-highest goalscorer in the World Cup Qualifiers with six goals.
The veteran marksman is known for his ability to hold the ball up and play on the shoulders of the opposition defenders. He uses his big physical frame to great effect and is deadly in aerial duels. The UAE star will look to test India from set-pieces.
Another player who has been in excellent form this season in the UAE Gulf League for Al Jazira has to be Khalfan Mubarak. The 25-year-old is known for his crafty skills and versatility to play on either flank as well as behind the striker. Incidentally, Mubarak also scored against India in their last encounter at the AFC Asian Cup.
Mubarak is very rapid and allowing him space will be nothing short of a nightmare for the Indian defence. He is also known for his pinpoint crosses and set-pieces, most of which will be intended for Mabkhout upfront.
Fabio Virginio de Lima
One of three South American players who were naturalized to play for the Whites. Fabio Lima made his debut under former coach Jorge Luis Pinto and while his form for the national team has not been great, he has been scoring for fun in the UAE Gulf League for Al-Wasl. The 27-year-old has notched up 19 goals and three assists in only 18 appearances.
He brings that Samba panache to this UAE attack and if Van Marwijk manages to fit him in the team and build a chemistry, then he can be a nightmare for the opposition defenders. Lima will be keen to form an understanding with Mabkhout and Mubarak forming a deadly trio.
What to Expect
The UAE national team have seen a lot of ups and downs in the last couple of years. Starting from the highs of the AFC Asian Cup semi-finals to the lows of getting beaten by Thailand and Vietnam and also the group stage exit at the Gulf Cup. Therefore, they will be looking to reinstate their belief in Van Marwijk and hope that the veteran Dutch tactician will guide them to the next round of the World Cup Qualifiers.
However, with a transition taking place, a lot of players have not been a part of the national team system. Therefore, the main concern will be the building of chemistry among the players. Van Marwijk will also be keen to gather some positive results in his second stint. Therefore, we can expect UAE to take the attack to India, while dominating possession. It will be a tough challenge for the Blue Tigers and it remains to be see if they can overcome their counterparts.