Seeking to keep their slim hopes of automatic qualification for Qatar alive, the United Arab Emirates welcome Syria to Dubai in AFC World Cup 2022 Qualifying on Thursday.
The hosts occupy third position in Group A with four matches remaining, while their winless visitors are rock bottom of the standings.
For all of their goal-laden performances in the second round of AFC FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifying, the UAE have not been able to replicate such showings in the third round, but a top-two finish is not beyond the realm of possibility just yet.
The Sons of Zayed picked up their first win of Group A at the sixth attempt last time out – with Ali Mabkhout’s penalty giving them a late 1-0 victory over Lebanon – and three previous draws have also helped them cement their spot in third place and a possible spot in the fourth round.
It will still be a tall order for the UAE to pip South Korea or Iran to one of the top two spots, as an eight-point gap separates Bert van Marwijk’s side from the automatic qualification spots, so a shot at glory in the intercontinental play-offs is far more realistic.
Of course, Marwijk is no stranger to success on the world stage having guided the Netherlands to the final of the 2010 World Cup, but his side were thrashed 5-0 by Qatar in the quarter-finals of the Arab Cup last month.
The UAE also failed to win any of their first three World Cup 2022 Qualifying third-round matches on home soil – being kept out by the opposition in two of them – but Marwijk will expect to see his side find their shooting boots against their lowly visitors here.
The final whistle in World Cup Qualifying cannot come quickly enough for Syria, whose wait for a first-ever appearance at the quadrennial event is sure to continue following a doomed third-round period.
The Qasioun Eagles have taken just two points from a possible 18 in Group A to sit rock bottom of the rankings – losing their most recent encounter 3-0 to Iran – and their Arab Cup campaign in December was also a forgettable affair.
Indeed, Valeriu Tita’s side were eliminated in the group stage – despite claiming an eye-catching 2-0 win over Tunisia – and it is now four losses in five away games across all competitions for this week’s visitors, who fell to a 2-1 defeat to the UAE in the Arab Cup.
On a more positive note, one of Syria’s only two points in the third round of World Cup Qualifying did come at home in a 1-1 draw versus the UAE, but it would be a shock to see the world’s 86th-ranked nation hold their own in Dubai.
United Arab Emirates World Cup Qualifying – Asia form:
United Arab Emirates form (all competitions):
Syria World Cup Qualifying – Asia form:
Syria form (all competitions):
We say: United Arab Emirates 2-0 Syria
Even with a proven goalscorer in Khribin leading the charge, Syria’s already slim hopes of reaching Qatar 2022 will surely be dashed on Thursday as the UAE aim to keep their World Cup dreams alive.
Marwijk’s men have their destiny in their own hands with regards to a top-three finish and will expect to march to another win over their lowly visitors with minimal fuss.