UAE coach expects tough semi-finals

They avoid meeting Oman in the semi-finals after a draw with Kuwait, but Ali insists that no opponent should be under-estimated.

Avoiding Oman will not make the UAE's task in the semi-finals of the Under 23 Gulf Cup any easier Mahdi Ali, the Olympic team coach, said after his side drew 1-1 with Kuwait at the Aspire Stadium in Doha, Qatar, last night to top their group. The UAE face either Bahrain or Qatar in Wednesday's semi-final as the two sides played their final group game last night.

Kuwait's reward for their draw with the UAE is a semi-final match-up against Oman. "It is true Oman are the team that has been impressive so far, but don't under estimate the others," said Ali at the post-match television interview. "Kuwait played a far better game than they played against Saudi Arabia. It is the best team on the day." The UAE took the lead through Faisal Khalil in the first half. Khalil timed his run to perfection to score with a powerful header off a free kick from Amer Abdulrahman in the 36th minute.

Ali Mabkhout was unlucky to see his effort ricochet off the far post two minutes into the second half during a counter attack as the UAE continued to threaten. But Kuwait struck the equaliser in the 50th minute following some superb play and Yousef Nasser was on target with a neat header off a dipping cross following a move down the left flank. The result booked the UAE a place in the last four ahead of Saudi Arabia, the defending champions.

"Kuwait played an offensive game from the onset but we created more than them, and could have won had we taken those chances," added Ali. "But I am satisfied with the result and it was definitely a better performance from out first game. Kuwait managed to score the equaliser, but it was a good move and they should be given credit for it." Ali said his side had been guilty of taking their foot off the gas with qualification already secured. "Having won the first game, I think my players took this game a bit easy, but that shouldn't be the case from now on as we enter the business end of the tournament."

The UAE could have clinched a win in added time but Khalil's header from close range fell wide.