Mahdi Ali reminds UAE dream of 2018 World Cup still alive: ‘We lost one match. We did not lose the qualification’
ABU DHABI // Mahdi Ali reminded his UAE players that there remains much to play for in qualification for the 2018 World Cup after their frustrating 1-0 defeat to Australia in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
The hosts, who opened their Group B campaign last week with a shock victory against Japan, lost to substitute Tim Cahill’s 75th-minute winner at a packed Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
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Seeking to progress to only their second World Cup, the UAE should still be relatively satisfied with their haul from what was a difficult double-header. Japan are continental powerhouses and serial qualifiers for the global finals, while current Asian champions Australia are attempting to appear at a fourth successive showpiece tournament.
With another eight fixtures to come in the final stage of qualification for Russia 2018, Mahdi Ali insisted his team must regroup and rebound for the next set of matches against Thailand and Saudi Arabia next month.
“We lost one match. We did not lose the qualification,” he said. “We are very happy that we won outside against Japan, they are one of the favourite teams for qualification, as well as Australia.
“Congratulations to Australia, and hard luck to us. Both teams played a great game today, both teams created chances. We didn’t take ours, but they used their chance. I am satisfied with that performance. We lost one game and the future will still be good.”
Australia, ranked 17 places in the world higher than the UAE at 57th by Fifa, created the better opportunities in sapping heat in the capital. However, the winner came late on, when Cahill lost Mohanad Salem and goalkeeper Khalid Essa in the home penalty area and sidefooted Brad Smith’s cross into the empty net.
There seemed to be a slight infringement in the build-up to Cahill’s decisive strike, but the officials did not blow up, leaving Australia’s record goalscorer to notch his 48th goal for the national team.
“We lost at home because of a mistake by the referee,” Mahdi Ali said. “The goal was a foul. This is football.
We have to accept it; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. This is not the end of the world. We have to work hard and we have to believe in our dream and fight for that.”
As it is, the UAE are fourth in Group B after two rounds, with Australia and Saudi Arabia joint top. Mahdi Ali’s side next host Thailand on October 6 and then face Saudi Arabia five days later.
Australia, meanwhile, go into the upcoming clash with Saudi Arabia with a platform to take a giant step towards a fifth successive World Cup. They handled the at times oppressive conditions better than the UAE to deliver on manager Ange Postecoglou’s pre-match declaration that the visitors had come for all three points.
“You want to win games and obviously, it is going to be a tough group,” Postecoglou said. “We said what we were going to do and we did it. We took the game to them, made them sit back. They were looking to waste time and I reckon they’d have been happier to get a point. We justifiably go away with three points.
“We were expecting a difficult game. We know what their strengths were, but we were going to believe in ourselves and see if they could keep up with us. I was confident we would eventually wear them down.
“They are still a good team and this group will be very close. The UAE are still going to play a big part in how the group unfolds. They still have a very good chance to qualify.”
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Published: September 6, 2016 04:00 AM