UAE goalkeeper Khalid Essa on team spirit, a shift in focus and that ‘ghost goal’ against Japan

On Thursday, the UAE opened the final stage of qualification for the 2018 World Cup with an incredible victory against Japan at Saitama Stadium 2002.
UAE goalkeeper Khalid Essa beats Japan's Takuma Asano to the ball during an Asian 2018 World Cup qualifier in Saitama, Japan, on Thursday, September 1, 2016. Atsushi Tomura / Getty Images
UAE goalkeeper Khalid Essa beats Japan's Takuma Asano to the ball during an Asian 2018 World Cup qualifier in Saitama, Japan, on Thursday, September 1, 2016. Atsushi Tomura / Getty Images

On Thursday, the UAE opened the final stage of qualification for the 2018 World Cup with an incredible victory against Japan at Saitama Stadium 2002. Goalkeeper Khalid Essa spoke to the travelling UAE media afterwards.

Focus, fight and a little good fortune

The UAE, seeking to reach only a second World Cup, began their Group B campaign against serial qualifiers Japan. The hosts went ahead on 10 minutes through AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda, but the UAE turned around the match thanks to two goals from Ahmed Khalil. Japan should have had an equaliser late on, though, when Takuma Asano’s effort clearly crossed the line before Essa palmed it to safety. The UAE hung on for a precious three points. The Japanese Football Association said Friday they had lodged a formal protest over the controversially disallowed goal, missed by Qatari referee Abdulrahman Al Jassim, with the Asian Football Confederation.

• UAE’s road to Russia: All our coverage in one place

On rebounding from an early setback

“The goal came from a great striker in the Japanese team, but nevertheless we still trusted in ourselves, were not shaken and did not lose hope,” Essa said. “Because every player recognised that there was still a long way to go and our goal was to fight for the win. We do that because the dream of qualifying for the World Cup has become a major target for everyone in the national team.”

On the ghost-goal equaliser

“I did not see the ball enter the goal, I’ve just made a save as soon as it approached me,” Essa said. “But it is important that we won, we have achieved what was required because we came to Japan to win. The focus was at its highest level, as was the seriousness throughout the successive training camps in the build-up, and I was confident in my ability to cope with the Japanese players, who represent some of the biggest European clubs.”

On shifting focus to Australia on Tuesday

“We know that the next match will be even more difficult, but we have to maintain the confidence we have in ourselves,” Essa said. “We have achieved part of a great job, but the journey is still long. I hope we find lots of support from UAE supporters in filling the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, so we can continue on this path with the same focus and get another three points to put us in a really good position to qualify early for the World Cup.”

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Published: September 2, 2016 04:00 AM

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