Van Mar­wijk needs time to get UAE back on the right track

The National - News - - FOOTBALL SPORT - JOHN McAULEY

A sec­ond suc­ces­sive de­feat for the UAE brought with it crit­i­cism for Bert van Mar­wijk.

Gone was the early op­ti­mism en­gen­dered by his March ap­point­ment. Rather swiftly, the doubts sur­faced.

Four com­pet­i­tive matches into his reign, the Dutch­man was deemed, in the court of pub­lic opin­ion at least, as per­haps not the right man for the job, af­ter all. Those two open­ing World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion vic­to­ries, achieved in Septem­ber in Malaysia and Oc­to­ber at home to In­done­sia, sud­denly felt an eter­nity ago.

Twin losses, first away to Thai­land last month and then two weeks ago against Viet­nam in Hanoi, eroded the sheen of what was billed a lus­trous new era for the UAE na­tional team. Al­most in an in­stant, pos­i­tiv­ity gave way to pes­simism.

Ir­re­spec­tive of the com­mend­able work sup­plied at Saudi Ara­bia. De­spite Van Mar­wijk’s ob­vi­ous un­der­stand­ing of foot­ball in the re­gion and what it takes to guide a Gulf coun­try to the World Cup. Re­gard­less of that, al­though Thai­land was a hugely dis­ap­point­ing dis­play, the UAE had been ac­tu­ally quite good last time out. Against the fast-im­prov­ing Viet­nam, they played al­most 60 min­utes with 10 men.

Yet still the crit­ics cir­cled. The the­ory went that Van Mar­wijk omit­ted from the squad seem­ingly ob­vi­ous choices. That he re­lied too heav­ily on much the same line-up.

That he did not spend enough time at­tend­ing Ara­bian Gulf League matches.

How­ever, the re­ac­tion to con­sec­u­tive de­feats feels more than a lit­tle knee-jerk. In­stalled in March, and without his first squad get-to­gether un­til July, Van Mar­wijk’s pri­or­ity was al­ways to over­haul an age­ing and stag­nat­ing group.

In the open­ing qual­i­fier – the 2-1, come-from-be­hind, vic­tory in Malaysia – his start­ing XI in­cluded four play­ers aged 23 and un­der.

Mo­hammed Al At­tas, 22, and Khal­ifa Al Ham­madi, 20, part­nered each other in the cen­tre of de­fence.

In Kuala Lumpur, three of that quar­tet made com­pet­i­tive de­buts, joined also by

Khalil Ibrahim, the Al Wahda winger. There would later be com­pet­i­tive bows for Ab­dul­lah Ra­madan, the highly rated Al Jazira mid­fielder, and for­ward Zayed Al Ameri, his club­mate. They’re aged 21 and 22, re­spec­tively.

Also, Van Mar­wijk has had to slowly in­te­grate Omar Ab­dul­rah­man and Ahmed Khalil, two of the team’s long-es­tab­lished “Big Three”.

The other, Ali Mabkhout, burst out of the blocks in qual­i­fi­ca­tion, scor­ing six goals in three games. In do­ing so, he be­came the coun­try’s all-time lead­ing marks­man.

But Mabkhout missed the match in Hanoi through sus­pen­sion. Sub­se­quently, the UAE missed his threat on the counter.

Half­way through qual­i­fi­ca­tion, Van Mar­wijk’s men lie fourth in the five-team Group G, al­though they’ve played a game less than their ri­vals.

Still, their po­si­tion is a con­cern – only the win­ners are guar­an­teed to progress to the third round – and patently places more em­pha­sis on their re­main­ing fix­tures. That three of those four take place at home of­fers some com­fort.

Ev­i­dently, Van Mar­wijk’s plan con­tin­ues to be a work in progress. Pa­tience must there­fore be preached.

The UAE were con­firmed for the Gulf Cup two weeks ago; they be­gin their bid tonight for a third re­gional crown, against Ye­men in Doha.

Run­ners-up in 2018, the UAE would do well to em­u­late that this time around. But the tour­na­ment, how­ever hastily ar­ranged, should be used to strengthen Van Mar­wijk’s strat­egy, to get across his mes­sage, to see how his play­ers fare in that com­pet­i­tive and com­pacted en­vi­ron­ment.

Ab­dul­rah­man’s ab­sence is a blow, deemed not ready for the de­mands of tour­na­ment foot­ball fol­low­ing his re­cent re­turn from 11 months off. The UAE are also without Walid Ab­bas and Ali Salmeen.

Yet an op­por­tu­nity has been pre­sented for oth­ers. For Van Mar­wijk, as well, al­though ad­mit­tedly the con­di­tions are not ideal.

What­ever tran­spires, the UAE man­ager, still find­ing his feet, needs to be af­forded time. Un­doubt­edly, Van Mar­wijk has pedi­gree. He must be al­lowed to prove it.

Chris Whi­teoak / The Na­tional

Bert van Mar­wijk has seen his UAE side lose two con­sec­u­tive World Cup qual­i­fy­ing matches

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