UAE ten, Malaysia nil. 10-0. Double figures to kick-start this World Cup qualifying double-header.
If the UAE have targeted six points from the twin test – Palestine lie in wait on Tuesday - then three arrived with minimum fuss and maximum fizz. Malaysia were meek; their opponents made hay.
Currently, 98 places separate these two sides in Fifa’s global rankings, but on Thursday night at a balmy Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, they were clearly worlds apart.
It was 7-0 by half time: Mohanad Salem opened the scoring, Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil each struck twice, Habib Fardan and Mohammed Ahmed notched one apiece. Five of those came in a hurricane 11-minute spell.
Three more were rolled along in the second half; one each for the three goalkeepers Malaysia used on the night. Khalil secured his hat-trick then added a personal fourth, sandwiched between another fine Mabkhout strike.
Put plainly, this was the UAE’s golden generation displaying its Midas touch.
“I’m very happy with the performance, the goals and the result, especially after the long summer,” said Mahdi Ali, the UAE coach, with typical understatement. “We carried out our strategy well and won the match because we showed our opponents a lot of respect.
“Now we move on to Palestine. Today is finished, we go to the next challenge, the next step.”
Yet they should be allowed to dwell on a dazzling display, however briefly. This was as close to perfect as the UAE senior national team have come during Mahdi Ali’s tenure - two goals shy of the country’s record victory against Brunei in 2001, back when the present side only dreamed of international caps and World Cups.
Two matches into their Group A campaign, the UAE have collected six points. The East Timor tie was won in June, but it was slow and sluggish. Against Malaysia, it was simply scintillating.
It is just a shame that so few fans came out to witness the whirlwind. If they did, perhaps the sparsely populated capital ground would have reverberated to “can we play you every week?”
That may be a tad unfair on the Malaysians, who spent the majority of the 90 minutes dazed and punch-drunk. They concluded the match, in the words of their shell-shocked coach, limp and leaderless.
“I don’t know what happened tonight,” said Dollah Saleh in the immediate aftermath, as he visibly struggled for words. “We gave away cheap goals, then everything collapsed. The UAE played fantastic football - especially Omar Abdulrahman, a super player. He kills everyone. Overall, I just don’t know what to say.”
For the UAE, their actions carried more weight than any post-match comment. Abdulrahman was at his inventive best, assisting six of his side’s 10 goals. His namesake, Amer Abdulrahman, created three of the others.
Mabkhout and Khalil were clinical; Fardan and Majed Hassan industrious, even when the match reverted to little more than a training exercise. Flicks fell to teammates; tricks bamboozled weary opponents.
“I was happy for Omar,” Mahdi Ali said. “But this is a team effort. Everyone contributes.”
The collective will certainly be required on Tuesday, when the group’s new top team travel to Palestine and attempt to make it three wins from three. Their upcoming hosts will be no pushovers, though. Palestine defeated Malaysia 6-0 in their most recent qualifier, underlining that they too should have something to say in a pool that initially represented a straight scrap between the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
“Palestine is a different challenge, so we have to concentrate fully on that,” Mahdi Ali said. “It is the first official match for them in their own country, so that will provide them extra motivation. We need to be 100 per cent prepared for it.”
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