ABU DHABI // Perhaps it was too much. Burdened by expectations and maybe even the realisation of their precarious position, the UAE departed their third and final Group A match of the Fifa Under 17 World Cup with defeat No 3, and with it exited the tournament.
In truth, Slovakia always appeared too good for Rashid Amir’s boys at a sparsely populated Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, technically superior and infinitely more assured in possession.
They took the lead, nine minutes before half time, with a well-executed set piece. Although the award of the free kick seemed a little dubious – Feras Al Khasibi adjudged to have tugged an opponent’s jersey – Lukas Haraslin floated a perfectly weighted cross that evaded two of his teammates yet landed plumb on the head of Tomas Vestenicky.
From 14 yards out, the Slovak striker directed his header high into the UAE net. Slovakia had regularly threatened until that point, with Haraslin a particular protagonist. That should have been expected, given the fleet-footed winger represents Parma, the Italian Serie A side.
In fact, the Slovakia midfield was patrolled confidently by the captain Jakub Hromada and his able deputy Filip Lesniak, players currently on the books of Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur. It conveyed the difficulty of the task facing the UAE.
The hosts were given a glimmer of hope just before the break, when Slovakia were reduced to 10 men as Jakub Gric earned a second yellow card for raising his studs in a challenge with Sultan Al Shamsi. The Slovak No 8 had been booked in the first minute, for a needless trip on Khaled Khalfan.
However, it mattered little. Despite opening the second half with a rasping shot from Mohammed Al Akberi, the UAE were soon two goals down.
They seemed to have dealt with the danger when Al Khasibi blocked Vestenicky’s goal-bound effort, but from the resultant corner the Slovakia forward rose highest at the near post to nod down past Mohammed Al Shamsi. Again, Haraslin was the provider.
That Vestenicky was due to be substituted moments before the corner will have only amplified the UAE’s torment. If any consolation could be retrieved from the situation, Vestenicky was booked for removing his jersey as he floored the corner flag in celebration.
Advantage doubled, Slovakia still passed and probed. Vestenicky could have completed a hat-trick but fired over the bar from the edge of the UAE penalty area and was finally withdrawn, to a standing ovation from the collection of Slovak supporters behind the dugout.
Lesniak then showed evidence why Tottenham have coaxed him to the English capital when he jinked past a line of UAE defenders before teeing up Juraj Chvatal.
However, Vestenicky’s replacement could not mirror his craft, placing the ball high above the crossbar.
As the match drew to a close, the smattering of UAE fans continued to urge on their young stars, but all the home side could muster was to stand firm and keep Slovakia at bay.
A disjointed performance by the Emiratis, and their participation in the tournament, had eventually met an end.