Emirati goalkeeper Mohammed Al Jasmi called Sunday’s shock victory over two-time champions Russia at the Beach Soccer World Cup the “best win of my career”. Yet such is the quick turnaround between games, before Al Jasmi and his UAE teammates had even boarded the team bus to return to their hotel, focus had switched to Tuesday’s final Group C match with Senegal.
Something has to give. Either the UAE qualifies for the knock-out stages for the first time after five failed attempts or Senegal become the first African side to progress from the group phase. Either way, history will be made. Acknowledging the opposition’s quest for history, Al Jasmi insists nobody is getting too carried away just yet.
"Beating Russia is a great result for me and for the country, but we have achieved nothing yet," he told The National after an indomitable display that included a goal and numerous unlikely blocks. "Bruno [Melias, the UAE's Brazilian assistant coach] told us in the dressing room 'Celebrate now because when you walk out the door, this is gone.'
“Now we must focus on Senegal. Both teams know they must win to progress, so both will treat it as a final. Hopefully we can get the job done and leave with the three points, but for sure it is not going to be easy because they too want to make history.”
Senegal, five-time winners of the Africa Beach Soccer Cup of Nations, impressed on Sunday as they defeated Belarus 7-2 to bounce back from a 6-5 opening day defeat to Russia. Led by goalscoring midfielder Mamour Diagne, the muscular Africans will provide a different type of test for Mohamed Bashir’s side.
“Senegal is a tall and strong team that fights to the last minute,” Bashir said. “They fight a lot and run a lot with the ball, but they are a little less tactical than others. We must be prepared and we will be. Our team showed today that when the focus is right, we can achieve big things.”
This evening’s match inside the Los Pynandi World Cup Stadium will mark the first time the Emirates have faced an African side at a World Cup since 2008, when they beat Cameroon 10-4 in Marseille, France. The UAE, having made history on Sunday by beating a European team for the first time at a World Cup, will build on that momentum, said Bader Hareb, head of the national team delegation.
“Russia was a fantastic display, but against Senegal you will see an even better UAE performance,” said Hareb. “It’s like I said at the start, we are here to make history not to make up numbers. [The opening loss to] Belarus was not a true reflection of this team, but it is behind us now. We are here to achieve great things and qualify for the next stage. The players have their focus back and will be even better against Senegal. You will see a team of warriors.”
Despite scoring four against Russia, it was the UAE defence that was most impressive. Playing with aggression and commitment, they refused to bow to their more celebrated opponents. They will almost certainly need to replicate such defending tonight if they are to progress: Senegal’s Diagne is in the hunt for the Golden Boot after hitting four goals against Belarus to take his tally for the tournament to six.
Similarly, the UAE attack will need to be at their best to beat goalkeeper Al Seyni Ndiaye, who showed astonishing reactions to keep out a host of powerful close-range volleys.
“I was surprised by the UAE beating Russia,” Ndiaye said. “But now we are in a special position because our match with them will be like a final. Whoever wins goes through, so we know what we need to do. The UAE will be full of confidence. They are a very strong team; a regular in the World Cup. But we will have our chances and I hope we take them because it is in our mind to be the first African team to reach the quarter-finals.”
If the Emirates are looking for a positive omen, they need look no further than Gulf neighbours Oman, who beat Africa’s second-best team Nigeria on Sunday. The Omanis now face Portugal in their final match and while coach Talib Al Thanawi is remaining realistic, he says his players will give their all against the European giants.
“Portugal is one of the best teams in Europe,” said Al Thanawi. “We will try out best, but you can see the difference between European teams and our team, which lacks experience. We come here to fight though and we will do that until the final kick.”