It was over before it started

Dominque Bathenay believes the two home defeats to North Korea and Saudi Arabia at sealed the UAE's fate in the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

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TEHRAN // As Dominique Bathenay reflected on UAE's dismal campaign in the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, the Frenchman believes their fate was sealed after the disastrous start at home The Whites crashed to identical 2-1 defeats against North Korea and Saudi Arabia in their opening two games, leading to the resignation of coach Bruno Metsu.

Bathenay, Metsu's deputy, took over the reins and the could gather just a solitary point after the dismal start, ending their campaign with a 1-0 loss to Iran in Tehran on Wednesday night. "If we had won those two opening games, we would have had six points," said Bathenay after his last game at the helm with UAE. "Our morale would have been high and we would have been battling for qualification. "But after losing those two games, we went to South Korea, which is never an easy place to travel. We lost and did not have a single point from three games and after that it was very difficult."

After the 4-1 defeat to South Korea, they returned home to play one of their best matches of the campaign, but unfortunately could not get the three points. Karim Bagheri struck the equaliser for Iran nine minutes from time after Abdulraheem Jumaa had put the hosts ahead in the 19th minutes. Losing by just a solitary goal to Iran on Wednesday, despite missing the likes of Ismail Matar, Faisal Khalil, Abdulraheem Jumaa, Ismail al Hammadi, Haidar Alo Ali and Hilal Saeed, was a fair achievement for the UAE.

"I think the players can take a lot of confidence and positives from the game they played here," said Bathenay. "All the players gave their maximum. We had two or three opportunities to score, but were unsuccessful. We tried our best, but when you have players of the quality of Matar, Faisal, Abdulraheem, Haidar, al Hammadi and Hilal missing, it is really difficult. "So the result was expected as Iran are a much better side. Still, I believe the team did well and need to be congratulated."

Iran needed to win the game to keep their slim hopes of qualifying alive, and Ali Karimi struck the winner in the 53rd minute, dribbling past three UAE defenders. Iran are still fourth, but just a point behind Saudi Arabia and North Korea who clash in Riyadh next week. South Korea, who have already qualified, top the group with 15 points and Iran need to beat the Taegeuk Warriors in Seoul next Wednesday to upstage the Saudis or the North Koreans.

Afshin Ghotbi, the Iranian head coach, was in bullish mood after the victory. "If there is anyone that can beat South Korea in Seoul, that person is Afshin Ghotbi. I have spent many years in South Korea and I know them well. So I can promise you that you will see us in South Africa." Ghotbi was one of Guus Hiddink's assistants when the Dutchman took the South Koreans to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup at home, and the Iranian-American dispelled notions that the Koreans could take the game lightly since they have already qualified.

"I know South Korea well and I know their players, we were in a World Cup together," he said. "I don't think they will lack in motivation because they have already qualified. Every team in the world has motivation, just like the UAE showed in this game." arizvi@thenational.ae