UAE defender Mohanad Salem says the players must use their Gulf Cup of Nations heartache as motivation for next year’s Asian Cup.
The national team were on Friday denied a third regional title in agonising fashion, when they lost the final to Oman on penalties after the match at Kuwait City’s Jaber Al Ahmad International Stadium had finished goalless.
The UAE eventually succumbed 5-4 in the shoot-out, with Omar Abdulrahman missing the decisive penalty. It was the Al Ain playmaker's second failure from the spot on the night, with Oman goalkeeper Faiz Al Rushaidi saving his initial effort in the final minute of normal time.
It was a cruel way for the UAE, Gulf champions in 2007 and 2013, to lose the showpiece, although Oman had done enough to warrant the victory. Both sides were cheered on in Kuwait by a vociferous support, with Salem paying tribute to the many who had travelled from the Emirates for the game.
“We are sorry for our fans - they came here to support us, but unfortunately we couldn’t win,” the Al Ain centre-back said. “We tried to take the cup, we did our best.
“We were unlucky in this game. We had a good opportunity to finish the match at the end of normal time, in the 89th minute, but unfortunately we didn’t score. We have to congratulate the Oman national team for this tournament.”
Salem was a key member of an unwavering UAE defence throughout the team’s bid for the trophy. Playing their first competitive matches with manager Alberto Zaccheroni in charge, the UAE did not concede a solitary goal in the tournament.
However, they scored only once in five games: Ali Mabkhout's penalty in their opening group match against Oman on December 22.
“We did our best as defenders,” Salem said. “We tried everything we could in this tournament not to concede goals and we didn’t concede one. In the penalties we were unlucky.”
The UAE will now turn attention to the Asian Cup in 12 months’ time. The continent's premier competition, it takes place in the Emirates for the second time, and first since 1996, with the Football Association targeting a run to the final at least.
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Zaccheroni was appointed in October – he replaced Argentine Edgardo Bauza - and given a contract through until the conclusion of the tournament. The UAE’s best finish was runner-up, on home soil 22 years ago. Last time out, they took the bronze medal in Australia.
“We have to now work hard for the Asian Cup,” Salem said. “We have to continue working with the coach and come back stronger.”
Meanwhile, Oman's Gulf Cup victory was marred somewhat by an accident directly after the match, when a glass barrier at the stadium collapsed, causing supporters to fall around three metres onto the running track that encircles the pitch.
It was reported that around 40 fans were taken to hospital, although the Kuwait Football Association later said that they were treated for only minor injuries.