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25 February 2024

UAE hope new year banishes old form

By Gary Meenaghan

If the UAE national team have a New Year's resolution, it surely must not be to win more games. But rather to simply win games. Period.

Last year was not a good year for the Whites. In 2008, they played 18 times and won just twice – both against world No127 Kuwait.

The plethora of poor performances was too much for coach Bruno Metsu, who resigned in late September following a 2-1 home defeat to Saudi Arabia. The loss had effectively ended the country's World Cup 2010 dream.

Metsu's No2, French compatriot Dominique Bathenay, took the reigns in an attempt to steady the ship, but four games on he has yet to register a victory and the UAE have slipped to an all-time low of No113 in the Fifa world rankings.

Such form will need to change drastically if the defending Gulf Cup champions are to retain their title in Oman this month.

The 19th edition of the GCC-wide tournament kicks off tomorrow in Muscat with the hosts taking on lowly Kuwait.

The holders get their Group B under way the following day when they play the Republic of Yemen.

It is a must-win match for the Whites as, in their quest to progress to the semi-finals, they face tough ties with Saudi Arabia (January 8) and Qatar (January 11), the latter of which is now ironically under the stewardship of Monsieur Metsu.

Even without Under-19 star Ahmed Khalil – who was ruled out this week through injury – with Mohammed Omar, Bathenay's men finally have a traditional No10 who will get goals given games.

But it is the defence where the problem continues to lie. In the past 12 months, the Whites have scored 17 goals, but critically, the back-four has shipped 27.

Whether Bathenay can plug the leak in time for success in the Sultanate remains to be seen. But if he can navigate his charges through the group stages the UAE will already be on course to better the results of 2008.