UAE’s road to Russia

With a recent historic win against Japan under their belts, the UAE football team has high hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Daniel Gardre analyses their chances

The UAE football team has emerged from its formative years to become a real contender to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Having reached the finals only once in their history, in Italy in 1990, Al-Abyad, or the Whites, now have a team capable of competing with Asia’s best once again.

The ‘golden generation’ has grown together from the youth ranks to the senior team and, motivated by head coach Mahdi Ali, who led the UAE to its first Olympic appearance in 2012, everything is coming together at once. As well as the long-term unity in the side, fans are being encouraged to get behind the team and get involved in the campaign with the hashtag #Together_We_Can.

The UAE finished runner-up in its second-round qualifying group for the 2018 World Cup to advance to a third-round group featuring Thailand, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Japan. Al-Abyad faced Japan in their opening match, securing a historic and surprising 2-1 victory through a Ahmed Khalil set-piece double to highlight how far the side has come.

The UAE fell in their ensuing game against Australia, holding the group favourites until Tim Cahill tapped home a cross at the back post two minutes after coming on as a substitute. Nevertheless, the future looks bright for Al-Abyad, and finishing in the top two places, thus ensuring automatic qualification, is a distinct possibility.

The biggest challenge could be breaking their hoodoo against Saudi Arabia, whom they have not beaten them since January 2007 in the Gulf Cup.

However, after the famous win against Japan, the UAE know they can be more than a match for the traditional Asian heavyweights as they bid for their first World Cup appearance in more than a quarter of a century.

Upcoming fixtures:

Thailand (h)

Saudi Arabia (a)

Iraq (h)