2018 World Cup qualifying: Five things we learnt about the UAE’s 2-1 win in Japan
The UAE recorded one of their finest victories on Thursday when they defeated Japan 2-1 at Saitama Stadium 2002 in their opening match of the final qualification for the 2018 World Cup. John McAuley was there to witness it. Here are five things he learnt.
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1. Khalil man for grand occasion
What a year for the UAE captain. He helped Al Ahli reach a first Asian Champions League final, scooped the Asian Player of the Year award and won the Arabian Gulf League title. After 11 goals in the previous qualification round, Khalil got two more, his Panenka penalty conveying a striker in full bloom. Scored the goals that sealed the UAE’s place at the London Games, then in last year’s crunch clash against Saudi Arabia. A big-game player.
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2. Central defence a bedrock
Mohanad Salem and Ismail Ahmed were standouts in the UAE’s a surprise victory against Japan in the Asian Cup quarter-finals last year. The defensive partnership, teammates at Al Ain, repelled almost everything Japan threw at them, and Ahmed drilled home the decisive penalty in the shoot-out. In Saitama, the two were colossal again, throwing their bodies in front of shots in a frantic final half-hour. The UAE’s twin towers.
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3. ‘Amoory’ does not need love
Roundly booed by the Japan supporters when the line-ups were announced pre-match, Omar Abdulrahman did little to win over the home fans. Initially quiet, he accepted his responsibility as the UAE’s star man as the match wore on, seizing possession and finding teammates in space, even indulging in a few flicks. He did not score or assist, yet he reinforced his reputation as one of Asia’s most talented players.
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4. Everyone needs a little luck
OK, so the UAE were extremely fortunate not to concede an equaliser late on, when Takuma Asano’s effort looked to be well behind the goalline before Khalid Essa pushed the ball away. Japan protested furiously, as they were right to do, but the absence of goalline technology saved the UAE. However, the visitors could argue they deserved some luck, given their spirited display and their simple refusal to be beaten. Japan certainly did not see it that way, though.
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5. Extended prep-work justified
Mahdi Ali’s decision to take the squad to Spain, then Dubai for one week, then Shanghai for another 12 days, did not go down well with managers of the Arabian Gulf League’s clubs. Almost two months’ preparation this summer, disrupting the domestic sides’ pre-seasons and robbing Al Ahli and Al Ain, in particular, of most of their respective first teams. Yet Mahdi Ali can now point to a famous victory: two months’ work for an extraordinary three points.
Published: September 1, 2016 04:00 AM