Mohammed Fawzi returns to UAE setup determined to get World Cup campaign back on track

Mohammed Fawzi returns to UAE setup determined to get World Cup campaign back on track
Mohammed Fawzi returns to UAE setup determined to get World Cup campaign back on track

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Back in the UAE squad after a long hiatus, Mohammed Fawzi could not hide his delight.

His mood was understandable. The Al Jazira right-back was for some time a mainstay of the group, but lost his place during Alberto Zaccheroni’s tenure and did not feature at all under successor Bert van Marwijk.

Fawzi’s last competitive appearance for his country was at the Gulf Cup of Nations in late 2017; he missed altogether last January's Asian Cup, on home soil.

However, with new manager Ivan Jovanovic comes fresh opportunity. Fawzi, 29, is one of a number of experienced internationals called into the Serbian’s first training camp this week, a short get-together as the former Al Nasr manager familiarises himself with his squad ahead of the resumption of World Cup qualification in March.

For Fawzi, it’s a chance to prove himself again.

“I’m so happy to be back with the national team and I’m proud to wear the jersey and to fight for my country,” he told The National after training in on Sunday night. “Not only me, but all the players who are back with me.

"From the first day I went to the changing room I was with my old friends, like Abdulaziz Haikal, Haboush Saleh. We were back at the same time and I said ‘Oh my God, we’re back on the right track’.

“I’m really happy. It’s been a while, but I know why God gave me this chance again."

Fawzi’s place in the squad comes in part because of his performances this season for Jazira – the Abu Dhabi club sit fourth in the Arabian Gulf League almost at the midway stage, six points off leaders Shabab Al Ahli Dubai – but for the moment minds concentrate solely on the national team.

The UAE’s World Cup campaign is at breaking point, with successive defeats prompting a slip to fourth in Group G and leading, in part, to Van Marwijk's dismissal last month after only 260 days in charge.

In response, Jovanovic has been handed a six-month contract, tasked with turning around the UAE’s hopes of reaching the third and final round of qualification.

The national team languish five points off leaders Vietnam, although they have a game in hand, with only the top side guaranteed to progress. That mission begins again with the pivotal double-header in March, home to Malaysia and away to Indonesia. After that, home clashes with Thailand and Vietnam, in June.

“We’re so focused because we have to pass the four games to go to the next round,” Fawzi said. “I think four games is not too hard, but not too easy. We are lucky because we have three games at our home. And I think, with our fans, we can do anything.”

In that regard, the three-day camp, however brief, is an important step on the road to redemption.

“First we have a new manager and he wants to know all the players, how they feel, how they think about the next step,” Fawzi said. “And he knows us very well. Maybe most of the players now in the national team played against him when he was in Al Nasr. But he doesn’t know them personally.

“So he uses these three days to make the gap small, because the first game of the four will be after two months. If we come to that camp after five days and then play a game we will not understand each other, especially when you have a new manager.”

As Fawzi reminds, though, there aren’t any short cuts if the UAE are to succeed in their quest.

“Success always comes from training hard, sleep good, pray, repeat. Every day. And you have to focus," he said. “Actually, we love each other so we don’t need to say that, because we play for our country.

"To be a success we have to fight, to focus on new work, sleep good and eat good. This is a football career.”

Updated: January 6, 2020 04:22 PM

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