Draw in Palestine keeps top two in sight for UAE in 2018 World Cup qualifying

It is advantage Saudi Arabia after four rounds of matches, but there is no need to panic yet, writes Ali Khaled

Palestinian player Haytham Theeb, centre, vies for the ball with the UAE’s Majed Hassan, second right, during their 2018 World Cup qualifier at the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium, on September 8, 2015 in the West Bank town of Al-Ram. Thomas Coex / AFP
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In the end, earning one point away to a dogged and determined Palestine team on Tuesday will be deemed more than satisfactory for the UAE. But it could have could have been so much better.

With 10 minutes of the second half remaining, Omar Abdulrahman produced a stunning cross-field pass that only needed Ahmed Khalil to guide into the net.

Instead, the man who scored four goals during the 10-0 thrashing of Malaysia only days ago missed the target with wayward header. With that went the last chance for Mahdi Ali's team to maintain their 100 per cent winning start in these 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

With Saudi Arabi overturning a one-goal deficit to beat Malaysia, the UAE are now two points off the summit in Group A. It is advantage Saudi Arabia, but there is no need to panic just yet.

It is early days in the group, with 12 points still left to play for. The priority for the UAE must be to finish top though, with only the four-best second-placed teams sure to progress.

What the draw does do is keep Palestine three points adrift and, for now, at arm's length in the World Cup qualification campaign. With Palestine having to play away in Abu Dhabi on March 24 in the group's penultimate matchday, the UAE will be confident that a victory then would leave them with a much better chance of winning the group outright.

After the match on Tuesday, Mahdi Ali expressed slight disappointment that the three points were not secured, and that he had already turned his attention to the upcoming qualifier against Saudi Arabia in Jeddah next month.

In terms of winning the group, that is not a match that the UAE can afford to lose. Should that happen, a five-point gap will mean that Saudi Arabia could very well be out of sight by the time they come to Abu Dhabi for the last group match on March 29, which would leave Mahdi Ali’s men hoping they can secure one of the best second-place berths to progress.

A draw or a win at King Abdullah Stadium in Jeddah, however, and the pendulum swings back in favour of the UAE.

As the team heads back home from an emotionally and physically draining trip, they will reflect that a draw in Jerusalem was a fine result after all.​


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