How to fill the Ali Mabkhout void and other talking points for UAE squad to play Vietnam

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Ali Mabkhout (EPA).

Bert van Marwijk must hope he’s found an optimal solution to fill the substantial goalscoring gap left by the suspended Ali Mabkhout after his squad to face Vietnam in a critical World Cup 2022 qualifier was named.

Mabkhout, 29, cannot add to his impressive six-goal tally from three second-round clashes at Hanoi’s My Dinh National Stadium because of a second yellow card of the campaign picked up during last month’s deflating 2-1 defeat in Thailand. Here are two talking points from the Whites’ 24-man roster announced on Tuesday:

WHERE WILL GOALS COME FROM?

The statistics make disconcerting reading for Van Marwijk.

Absent Al Jazira predator Mabkhout has contributed six of the UAE’s eight strikes in this cycle.

Obvious replacement, 2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil, is on an eight-match drought in the Arabian Gulf League. Defenders Bandar Al Ahbabi and Yousef Jaber, plus playmaker Khalfan Mubarak, are the leading top-flight scorers chosen on a, measly, two in 2019/20.

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The signs are hardly propitious ahead of facing Group G’s second-placed outfit, who are AFF Suzuki Cup holders. Plus, boast outstanding talents in Sint-Truiden loanee Nguyen Cong Phuong and Ha Noi FC playmaker Nguyen Quang Hai.

Jazira youngster Zayed Al Ameri is a promising alternative off the bench. But much rests on Khalil rediscovering top gear.

MIDFIELD SHAKE UP

Enforced changes in midfield could yet hand the UAE a fortunate boost.

Al Wahda winger Khalil Ibrahim and Al Ain tyro Ahmed Barman are out through injury. But both were part of an XI that was swamped in Thailand’s Thammasat Stadium, following wins versus Malaysia and Indonesia.

The possible twinning of Jazira conductors Omar Abdulrahman and Mubarak – back from fitness problems of his own – is mouth-watering. Plenty of chances must be fed to goal-shy strikers for the UAE to come away with anything.

Tariq Ahmed and the recalled Habib Fardan have excelled during a mixed season for Al Nasr. Both are experienced deputies for Barman.

There could also be a temptation to push up Jazira centre-back Mohammed Al Attas into defensive midfield, making space for Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club veteran Walid Abbas or Wahda’s Hamdan Al Kamali.

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