Rescuing UAE's World Cup qualification campaign is all that matters now for manager Ivan Jovanovic

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Ivan Jovanovic says his sole focus is rescuing the UAE’s stuttering World Cup qualification campaign as he looks to lift the national team from their current “crisis”.

The Serb, manager in two different spells of ’s Al Nasr, was introduced to the media on Monday at the Football Association headquarters having signed a six-month contract last week.

Jovanovic replaces Bert van Marwijk, who was dismissed earlier this month following the team’s group-stage exit from the Gulf Cup of Nations. The Dutchman's tenure lasted 260 days.

The Gulf Cup disappointment continued a run of poor results with Van Marwijk, coming on the back of successive defeats in World Cup qualifiers that threaten their chances of making the 2022 finals.

Jovanovic, 57, has four matches to salvage the UAE’s bid to reach the third and final round of qualification, with the national team currently fourth in the five-team Group G, five points off leaders Vietnam. Only the top team is guaranteed to advance.

However, the UAE have played one game fewer than each of their group rivals. They resume the campaign in March with the double-header at home to Malaysia and away in Indonesia.

“This is a very important day for me, the people working here and, I believe, for my players,” Jovanovic said. “It’s a new start for me, for most of the people. It’s a good challenge in front of us, a big challenge.

“This position is not for us. We need to go out of this crisis. We need to take our national team to the next step of qualification. This is the first and only target that I have in my mind.”

Jovanovic’s experience of UAE football was a crucial factor in the FA’s newly formed national team committee selecting him. He spent more than three years initially at Nasr from June 2013, ending the club’s 25-year wait for a trophy by securing three in two seasons.

His second stint was less successful, though, with Jovanovic dismissed last December after less than a year in charge. Still, he said he returns to management – this will be his first experience of international management – with renewed vigour.

“I believe in those players, I know them very well since I’m six years in the UAE and I believe that we can make it possible together,” Jovanovic said. "So if the federation is needing my help after six years of having the knowledge of local football, it was difficult to say no.

UAE manager Ivan Jovanovic, right, and Ghanim Al Hajeri, head of national team committee. Victor Besa / The National

“This time we might have faced a crisis in terms of results. I have the experience from our players that they always want to play their best for the national team. And I’m sure we have the quality as players and their will to change the situation. If I did not believe it I would never accept this position.”

Jovanovic laughed off suggestions he could encounter interference from the FA regarding team selection, and said he will meet his squad for the first time later this week during a brief camp.

“I know, the board knows and the players know the difficult situation we’re in; the fans too; you the same,” he said. “I want help from everybody in this difficult moment in order to succeed.

“This can happen in football. There are always good periods and bad periods. But there are moments that you have to react, and now is a good time for a reaction.

“It’s a good challenge for me and the players to react positively. Of course, we need help from everybody, because the national team is the mirror of football in the United Arab Emirates.”

Asked if he would mirror Van Marwijk’s emphasis on youth, Jovanovic said: “We need to win four games. If you need to win four games you will go into these games with the best from what you have. Even if someone is 36 or 37, maybe 18, 19 or 20, we need to get the best of what we have today for these four games.

“We need four wins, and we choose mentally stronger, physically stronger players; players who are ready for these four games. It’s a simple philosophy.”

Updated: December 30, 2019 04:35 PM

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