UAE open 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with battling win over East Timor

Mahdi Ali said the performance was secondary to the result after the UAE opened their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with a narrow 1-0 victory against East Timor, John McAuley writes from Kuala Lumpur.

Omar Abdulrahman, centre, was the best player on the pitch and provided the all-important goal. Courtesy: UAE FA
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East Timor 0 UAE 1

UAE Omar Abdulrahman 80'

Man of the match Omar Abdulrahman (UAE)

KUALA LUMPUR // Mahdi Ali said the performance was secondary to the result after the UAE opened their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with a narrow 1-0 victory against East Timor.

The Emirati side struggled to break down their opponents at Malaysia’s Shah Alam Stadium on Tuesday, but were provided a winning start in Group A through Omar Abdulrahman’s 80th-minute strike.

The UAE were heavy favourites, since East Timor sit 146th in the Fifa rankings – 73 places below them. However, played in stifling conditions and arriving immediately after an arduous domestic campaign, the match proved more difficult than the UAE originally anticipated.

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“The result was very good for us because we came here to win and achieved it,” Mahdi Ali said. “That’s the most important thing. As I said after the Asian Cup, in two years these players haven’t had a rest.

“There are some players who didn’t play for maybe one month and you cannot keep the performance at game level if you don’t play every week. That’s not possible. Although I spoke about this, no action was taken.

“The most important thing is we won in these circumstances. I’d like to thank the players for all their effort - they fought until the end. Now we have to close this chapter. We have one month rest and then we have to think about the coming games in September.”

Other than the victory, Abdulrahman’s performance was perhaps the only positive. The Al Ain playmaker was again his side’s creative fulcrum and capped a competent display with a fine long-range effort to secure the points.

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Mahdi Ali commended the collective, although he did single out Abdulrahmans’s work ethic – a consequence, Mahdi Ali said, of the midfielder’s abbreviated club season.

“For me, the whole team is important, it’s not one player,” he said. “If a player scores a goal, it’s the effort of all the team. But I think Omar did well today, he was fighting. He played only [11] league games last season. That proves what I’m saying about the players being tired. We have seen Omar probably run more than anyone today.”

Fabio Magrao, East Timor’s coach, had identified Abdulrahman as the UAE’s danger man. Yet despite the defeat, the Brazilian was content with his side’s work this past week: on Thursday, East Timor began the group with a last-gasp 1-1 draw against Malaysia.

“We know the quality of the UAE, who had more possession although we had defensive control and made a few chances,” Magrao said. “But we knew Omar could change the game – I told [midfielder Ebi] to stay with Omar, even if he’s going to the toilet, because I knew he had the quality to finish the game. In a minute, [Ebi] lost concentration and Omar turned and scored.

“I’m proud of my players because we met just a few days before and got what felt like victory against Malaysia. Now we fought for the whole game against one of the biggest teams in the region.”

East Timor v UAE report card

East Timor 6/10 – Not much was expected from the Southeast Asians, but they defended resolutely and almost snatched a second successive draw. Created a few chances on the counter.

UAE 6/10 – Mahdi Ali's mens struggled to continually carve out decent chances, often peppering the opposition goal with shots from distance. Looked tired, even though they enjoyed the majority of possession.

The National verdict The UAE will be glad to have gotten this match out of the way, especially since it came on the back of a lengthy season. Were nowhere near their best, but saved by Abdulrahman's brilliance.

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