A big step for UAE's 'golden' group

The Olympic team's dramatic Asian Games penalty shoot-out win to reach the semi-finals raises hopes of qualifying for London 2012 and the 2014 World Cup.

Omar Abdulrahman goes up against two North Korean players in the men’s quarter-final match at the Asian Games on Friday.
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The Olympic team's dramatic Asian Games penalty shoot-out win over a North Korea side which included seven players from their World Cup squad has raised hopes of qualifying for London 2012 and the 2014 World Cup.

This crop of Emiratis have been labelled as the country's "golden generation", having won the Under 16 Gulf Cup in 2006, the U19 Asian Cup in 2008 and the U23 Gulf Cup in August.

They enhanced their reputation with a 9-8 spot-kick victory on Friday to set up a semi-final showdown for coach Mahdi Ali's side with South Korea on Tuesday.

The UAE had never gone beyond the group stage in the previous five Asian Games.

"There is absolutely no doubt it was one of their most significant victories," said Fahad Ali, the former UAE captain and now a football analyst. "They are already a vastly experienced and successful squad in the age-group competitions, but this win over the Koreans makes them even better. They certainly are on the right path to take the country's ambitions of playing in next year's London Olympics and later carry on the nation's hope of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup."

Bernard Schumm, the Football Association's director of coaching and youth development, believes two factors have contributed towards the success of this team.

"It was their experience and mental strength," Schumm said. "This team has been together for more than five years and they have had a lot of success in the age-group competitions, and that success is now their mental strength, which means they refuse to lose."

Schumm felt the sides were almost perfectly equal. "At the end, it was left for one player to have a little more concentration and confidence than the Korean player," the German said.

"Ali Kasheif (the UAE goalkeeper) did well to save one of the spot kicks, and Mohammed al Shehhi used all of his experience to finish it off when it came to his turn. Incidentally or coincidentally, he was at the right place at the right time. It seemed he was saved for the right moment.

"The Koreans may have had seven of their players from their World Cup squad, but don't forget this UAE team is almost like their national team without Ismail Matar, Subait Khater and Majed Naser, the goalkeeper.

"I saw it as two full national teams, and they both played a highly technical game in all aspects to cancel out each other in tactics, skills and the physical abilities. Both teams could have won when it went to the penalty shoot out."

Meanwhile, Saif Mohammed, the Al Ain midfielder, has pulled out of the senior national team squad who depart for Yemen this morning for the Gulf Cup.

He is replaced by Ali Mabkhout, the attacking midfielder from Al Jazira, and Al Wasl's Fadhel Ahmed, who has been included as cover. The UAE play Iraq in their Group B match on Tuesday.