Alberto Zaccheroni apologises to UAE fans after Asian Cup semi-final loss

Manager acknowledges failing in his goal of taking national side to Friday’s final

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - January 29, 2019: UAE's Fares Juma Al Saadi is consoled by manager Alberto Zaccheroni after loosing in the semi final between the UAE and Qatar in the Asian Cup 2019. Tuesday, January 29th, 2019 at Mohamed Bin Zayed Stadium Stadium, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak/The National

Alberto Zaccheroni, the manager, apologised to UAE supporters after the national team fell short of reaching the Asian Cup final on Tuesday night.

The UAE lost 4-0 to Qatar in the semi-final in Abu Dhabi, and the side's Italian coach acknowledged he had failed in his goal of taking the side to Friday's final.

“First of all, I want to ­apologise to the UAE fans,” Zaccheroni said. “Yes, we made some mistakes but we did our best.

“We tried to do a better performance to make the fans happy, and we tried until the end.

“The players did their best but we couldn’t perform at the level we wanted to.

“I’m the coach and I take the responsibility for the defeat. The tactics we used didn’t work and we tried to change it in the second half, but it was too late.”

The Italian said he was not content to have reached the last four in a run that included beating defending champions Australia in the quarter-finals, believing that they had been genuine contenders to win the title for the first time.

Zaccheroni said: “To reach the semi-final wasn’t my ­expectation because I wanted to win the Asian Cup. For me, it’s not a satisfactory result.

“I took charge of the team 15 months ago. We didn’t succeed in achieving our goals, but I’m very proud to have worked with the UAE team.

“Our objective from the beginning was to win the Asian Cup but we fell short. There was a lot of pressure on the players in this game, but I think they handled it well.”

The national team’s players were willed on by a packed crowd at the Mohamed Bin Zayed Stadium, as they went in search of a place in the final, with Japan lying in wait.

It would have been the UAE’s second appearance in the final in their history at the tournament, having finished runner-up to Saudi Arabia the last time the tournament was played in the Emirates, in 1996.

Even 15 minutes after the start, supporters were snaking their ways between the aisles to find their way to the spare seats at the furthest ­extremities of the ground. In the largest stand, supporters crammed into the gangways and stood

to watch.

Qatar took the lead after 22 minutes when a speculative shot from Boualem Khouhki, the centre back, evaded the grasp of Khalid Essa in the UAE goal.

The host nation were incensed that a free-kick had not been given their way in the build up to the goal, feeling that Ismail Al Hammadi had been fouled on the edge of the Qatar box.

Al Hammadi remonstrated with Cesar Ramos, the Mexican referee, in vivid terms after the goal went in.

Five minutes later, the Shabab Al Ahli Dubai winger had a chance to level, only to head straight at Saad Al Sheeb in the Qatar goal.

Qatar doubled their advantage after 37 minutes, when Almoez Ali drilled a shot in off Essa’s left-hand post.

It was the Qatar striker’s eighth goal of the Asian Cup, which equalled the single-­tournament record of Iran’s Ali Daei.

UAE had their chances in the second half, as the 38,646 crowd did their best to rouse them.

Five minutes after the interval, Ali Mabkhout had an attempt to register a fifth goal of the tournament thwarted by a save by Al Sheeb.

Ismail Matar, the veteran forward, who was on as a second half substitute, had a shot blocked, while Ahmed Khalil, who was also introduced as UAE chased the game in the second phase, saw a header saved.

Qatar went 3-0 up when Hassan Al Haydos scooped a shot over Essa. As tempers frayed in stoppage time, Ismail Ahmed, was shown a red card after the match official consulted the Video Assistant Referee and decided the centre-back from Al Ain had elbowed Salem Al Hajri.

There was enough time for Qatar to score a fourth against the 10 men of the UAE, as Hamid Ismail squeezed a shot under Essa.

(Additional reporting from Amith Passela)