The UAE’s hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup officially ended after a 1-0 defeat away to Iraq in Jordan yesterday.
Edgardo Bauza’s side needed to inflict a heavy win against the ‘Lions of Mesopotamia,’ while hoping the teams above them in Group B, Saudi Arabia and Australia, suffered just as heavily at home to Japan and Thailand, respectively.
Australia beat Thailand 2-1 earlier in the day to rule out one of the above options for the UAE, closing the door on automatic qualification and leaving the Whites hanging on the result of Saudi Arabia’s later game with Japan, to see if they could somehow scrape the play-offs.
In the end though, it didn’t matter what Saudi did as the UAE couldn’t even get the win required of them against Iraq, let alone by the huge number of goals deemed necessary. It would have been a nine-goal swing to overtake Saudi.
Ayman Hussain headed in a cross on 29 minutes to put Iraq in front for the game’s only goal.
Bauza had asked his players to ignore the permutations heading into this game and just focus on getting a result in order to continue rebuilding for the future, with attentions now turned to the UAE’s hosting of the 2019 Asian Cup.
However, with six players missing, including talisman Omar Abdul Rahman through injury, things became too much for a tired and depleted UAE side, especially up against a much spritelier Iraq, who, already-eliminated, could play without pressure.
In Bauza’s short reign since taking over from Mahdi Ali in May, the former Argentina coach has now picked up one draw, one win and a loss from the remaining three World Cup qualifiers, drawing 1-1 away to Thailand in June, followed by a 2-1 win at home to Saudi last week.
The temptation will now be there, especially given the surprise victory over Saudi, to say what if?, the UAE had beaten Thailand. In the end though there were many hiccups in their ill-fated Road to Russia, in a bid to reach what would have been only their second World Cup since 1990.
It started so well with a 2-1 win away to Japan last September before a 1-0 defeat at home to Australia. They bounced back with a 3-1 win at home to Thailand but things were made difficult following a 3-0 defeat away to Saudi last October.
Former coach Mahdi Ali had reportedly offered his resignation after that game at what would have been a perfect juncture to switch coaches and refresh the set-up.
However, the UAE FA rejected his resignation and he carried on for three more games beating Iraq 2-0 before 2-0 defeats at home to Japan and away to Australia, after which, with the UAE’s hopes in tatters, his second resignation was finally accepted.
Bauza took over with three games to spare and things seemingly beyond the UAE, but had he won his opening game away to Thailand, with results having played out the way we know they have since, the UAE would have come into this final game with a lot more to play for.
Failing to qualify for the World Cup is particularly disappointing for the UAE considering they finished third at the 2015 Asian Cup, but now they will just have to focus on bettering that Asian finish at home in 2019.
Bauza’s own ‘Road to Russia’ started as Argentina coach and ended after just eight games in charge of the Albiceleste, and now ends with elimination with UAE.