Syria stand in way of UAE celebrations

The UAE had some shaky moments in the second half in Kuwait City, but a last-gasp strike has put the Whites on the verge of qualification. (AFP)

Bruno Metsu's UAE side will run out at the Al Ain Stadium tomorrow night knowing that anything but a defeat of three or more goals will see them progress to the next stage of World Cup qualification.

The Whites take on Syria in the last match of the Asian Qualifying group stage and after snatching a late winner in Kuwait City last week they find themselves on the verge of the next round.

With Iran already guaranteed qualification with nine points, the UAE sit second on eight, three ahead of third-placed Syria, but with superior goal difference.

Abdul Rahman Mohammed, the captain of the UAE side that qualified for the World Cup in 1990, is confident Metsu's men will be involved when the draw for the next round of qualification is made on Thursday.

"I think after the victory in Kuwait, we have a good chance to go on now and qualify for the next stage," says Mohammed.

"We have three possibilities: we can win, lose or draw. Yet the only way we don't progress is if we lose by three goals. Qualification is – almost – guaranteed."

However, Mohammed is also quick to stress that the Whites cannot allow themselves to take their feet off the gas. The former Gulf Player of the Year believes the Emirates must take the game to Syria.

"Sometimes teams defend too much," says Mohammed. "But I feel if we play defensively against Syria it will pose us big problems.

"Instead we must attack from the start. I don't suggest we go on an all-out attack, but find a good balance of attack and defence.

"It is very important that we score first as that way Syria must score four."

The Reds may have only scored three times during the current group stage, but former UAE skipper Mohammed has warned Frenchman Metsu not to allow his Whites side to become complacent and be wary of a strikeforce that is hitting form at the right time.

Feras Al Khatib, the Al Arabi striker, netted a double in the 4-2 defeat to Kuwait earlier this month and Mohammed says he has the potential to inflict damage to the UAE's dream.

"Syria have very good strikers who have come into form recently, especially Al Khatib," he says.

"Since the Gulf Cup win, Metsu has been very good at working on the defensive duties of the team. The only thing I would advise him to tell his players is to be careful not to give away free kicks in dangerous areas.

"Syria have the potential to punish you from dead ball situations – especially Al Khatib who scored against Kuwait from a free-kick."

Metsu, who led African minnows Senegal to the World Cup finals in 2002, has come under criticism for letting a 2-0 lead slip against Kuwait last week.

Ismail Mattar had put the Emirates in the comfort zone in the first half, but as Metsu's side sat back for a while, Kuwait put on the pressure and managed to find a way back into the game.

Only a last minute counter-attack – coming from a Kuwait header that struck the UAE goalkeeper Majed Nasser's post – saw the Emirates leave Kuwait City with three points.

"It was terrible, it was nervy and it was not enjoyable to watch – until the last 10 seconds," jokes Mohammed. "The second half we had not played well and our nerves had allowed Kuwait back into the game but thankfully we did enough to get the three points in the end.

"Now we have beaten Kuwait and are on the very verge of qualifying, the game against Syria is not as hard.

"The next round though will be a lot more difficult as there are some really strong sides progressing.

"I would imagine Metsu will want to avoid Japan and Australia as they are both very, very good teams who can cause any side in the world problems, as they have shown in past competitions."

 

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