UAE held to goalless draw by Palestine in 2018 World Cup qualifier

Mahdi Ali's side trail Group A leaders by two points after Saudi Arabia win in Malaysia

UAE’s Amer Abdulrahman, right, vies for the ball with Palestine’s Pablo Tamburrini during their 2018 World Cup qualifying match at the Faisal Al Husseini Stadium in the West Bank town of Al Ram on Tuesday. Ahmad Gharabli / AFP
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Mahdi Ali stopped to answer questions and smiled, content enough with the point his side had earned in Palestine.

A goalless draw at the raucous Faisal Al Husseini International Stadium on Tuesday had arrived only days after the 10-0 mauling of Malaysia, but the UAE coach appeared not too perplexed, happy instead that his side emerged undefeated from their 2018 World Cup qualifying double-header.

With four points from a possible six, the UAE are well-placed ahead of next month’s crucial Group A clash in Saudi Arabia. As it stands, those two sides occupy the top two berths in the group, set to scrap it out for its one automatic qualifying spot. The impasse in Palestine could yet prove positive.

“In general, the point does not satisfy us. We were hoping to win, but we did our best and we have to be happy with that,” Mahdi Ali said pitchside. “Hopefully we can make it up in the next match.”

In truth, a milestone tie produced few landmark moments. Hosting their first competitive senior match in four years, and the first against another Arab country, Palestine were predictably dogged and determined. As a result, the UAE huffed and puffed.

They had chances, most notably through Ahmed Khalil, but Malaysia’s chief tormentor reverted to type. He was wildly inconsistent and fired shots from all angles, yet he rarely troubled Tawfi Ali in the home goal.

Khalil’s best opportunity was his side’s finest, too. In the 80th minute, Omar Abdulrahman floated a pass between Palestine defenders, but the Al Ahli striker failed to direct his header on goal.

Earlier, he blazed over the bar from an acute angle when Ali Mabkhout, stood stationed in the six-yard box, screamed for the ball to be squared.

So Khalil’s four goals against Malaysia morphed into seven unsuccessful attempts against Palestine.

Buoyed, the hosts clung on for a point. On their artificial pitch, they underlined their status as a bona fide challenger in Group A. Ranked 119th by Fifa and therefore 49 places below the UAE, Palestine were their opponents’ equal on a historic night in Al Ram.

The conditions, though, certainly played a part.

“I’d like to congratulate the players on the way they dealt with what were extraordinary circumstances on the pitch,” Mahdi Ali said.

“Perhaps the surface did not help us perform to our usual standards. But that is not an excuse for not winning the match. We had three chances, two of them that were very easy. Matches like this are played like a final, if you don’t take your chances the match drifts away from you.

“Now we have an important match coming up. We’ll work to get the team ready and redress the situation.”

Ali Kasheif, the UAE goalkeeper and captain, echoed his coach’s sentiments before emphasising the sense of occasion. In doing so, he helped pay tribute to the 45 UAE servicemen who were killed on duty last week in Yemen.

“First, I’d like to send my condolences to our fallen brothers,” Kasheif said. “It’s an honour for us as Emiratis to play here.

“Yesterday we were talking to Ahmad Al Attas and telling him, ‘You are only 19 and you’re in Palestine, this might not happen again in your life’. This is something we can tell our children about.”

On the result, he added: “I see this as point gained away to Palestine. The journey from Jordan to Palestine was very tiring. This is not an excuse, but the important thing is that we had a goal and we leave here having achieved it.”

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