UAE’s Ahmed Khalil urges fans to show support for Australia match: ‘You are our No 1 player’

The UAE captain was the star man in Thursday’s surprise 2-1 victory against Japan at Saitama Stadium 2002, scoring both goals to ensure his side opened Group B with a hugely impressive win. John McAuley reports from Saitama.
Ahmed Khalil celebrates his second goal against Japan in a 2018 World Cup qualifier in Saitama, Japan, on Thursday, September 1. Atsushi Tomura / Getty Images
Ahmed Khalil celebrates his second goal against Japan in a 2018 World Cup qualifier in Saitama, Japan, on Thursday, September 1. Atsushi Tomura / Getty Images

SAITAMA, JAPAN // Ahmed Khalil says the UAE have the belief they can achieve another positive result against Australia next week to maintain a fine start to qualification for the 2018 World Cup, but he still called on the country’s football fans to show their support.

The UAE captain was the star man in Thursday’s surprise 2-1 victory against Japan at Saitama Stadium 2002, scoring both goals to ensure his side opened Group B with a hugely impressive win.

More from John McAuley in Saitama:

• Analysis: UAE hit top gear on the road to Russia 2018

• Khalid Essa: Reaction to Japan’s ‘ghost goal’

• Reaction: Mahdi Ali praises players after overcoming Japan

• Report: UAE shock Japan 2-1

• Five things we learnt: Khalil a big-game player

Seeking to reach only a second World Cup, the UAE now face current Asian champions Australia at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. Should they prevail again, Mahdi Ali’s men will be in an incredibly strong position to finish among the top two spots that guarantee a place at Russia 2018. Saudi Arabi, Iraq and Thailand make up the rest of the group.

Khalil said the triumph in Japan can galvanise the UAE for the long road ahead.

“The journey is difficult, and we are aware of that, but with the togetherness of our efforts and the desire to win every game, we can overcome any difficulties,” Khalil said. “We will focus on that during the next phase, but we also say to the UAE fans that you are our No 1 player, we need you in the stands in front of the Australian team and we know you will not let us down.

“We believe in ourselves greatly. Our goal is to qualify for the World Cup, and to give happiness to the people of the UAE. From the first day of our camp in Spain the team resolved to fight and to not shrink from anything because we are soldiers fighting for our country.”

Khalil should be key once more to the UAE’s chances against Australia. The Al Ahli forward lead by example in Saitama, cancelling out Keisuke Honda’s 10th-minute opener with an expert free kick nine minutes later. Khalil then kept his cool shortly after half time, when he casually chipped home a “Panenka” penalty to put the UAE in front.

The visitors, ranked 25 places below Japan by Fifa at No 74, held on for the points, even though they were fortunate not to concede an equaliser in the 77th minute after substitute Takuma Asano’s attempt had clearly crossed the line. Khalil, who said he struggled to sleep the night before the game, credited the UAE’s resolve to overturn the scoreline and emerge victorious.

“We were worried, but we were not scared and it did not take us long to get back into the game,” said Khalil, who was eventually substituted with 18 minutes remaining. “Although we suffered an early goal, our confidence in ourselves was not shaken at all.”

Asked about his two goals, Khalil said words of encouragement from teammate Omar Abdulrahman and manager Mahdi Ali had helped him complete the dead-ball double.

“Ali Mabkhout won the free kick and Omar and I went to the ball, but Omar whispered to me that I should take it and score my goal, so I then had the feeling I could find the net this time.

“For the second goal, I had to show really cool nerves, which we have practised to do. Before the match, Mahdi Ali asked me to forget everything else outside the stadium, and calmly deal with set pieces and penalties, which is also what happened and I scored the goal.”

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Published: September 2, 2016 04:00 AM

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