Questions up front for the UAE but defence holds steady in scoreless draw with Norway

Missing their midfield maestro Omar Abdulrahman and five of his Al Ain teammates, the UAE looked far from fluent but a sturdy performance from Amer Abdulrahman, Habib Fardan and Khamis Esmail helped, writes Ahmed Rizvi.
The UAE’s Habib Fardan, left, breaks away from Yann-Erik de Lanlay of Norway during their international friendly on Friday night. Courtesy UAE FA
The UAE’s Habib Fardan, left, breaks away from Yann-Erik de Lanlay of Norway during their international friendly on Friday night. Courtesy UAE FA

Manager Mahdi Ali must have been a pleased man on Friday night as the UAE recovered from a shaky start to hold Norway to a 0-0 draw at the Viking Stadion in Stavanger.

Missing their midfield maestro Omar Abdulrahman and five of his Al Ain teammates, the UAE looked far from fluent going forward, but a sturdy performance in the midfield from Amer Abdulrahman, Habib Fardan and Khamis Esmail, coupled with Walid Abbas’s brilliance in defence, helped them share the honours against a team ranked 12 places higher by Fifa.

Read more: Football future for Norway phenom Martin Odegaard starts now

Starting with Majed Hassan and Ali Mabkhout on the bench, the UAE looked jittery in the opening exchanges. The back four of Abbas, Essa Ahmed, Abdulaziz Sanquor and Abdulaziz Haikal, however, managed to survive a tense opening five minutes, when the hosts were hounding them from all sides.

Gradually, the UAE midfield started taking charge, which released some of the pressure on their defence.

In the 23rd minute, they almost caught the Norway defence napping on a break when Ahmed Ali relayed the ball to Ismail Al Hammadi, but the Al Ahli man’s attempt at a cross was cleared for a corner by Vegard Forren.

Ahmed Khalil had a great chance in the 33rd minute, when Amer Abdulrahman floated in a precision ball from his own half, but the striker dragged his shot wide. In the dugout, Mahdi Ali looked clearly displeased with that rather casual effort.

Coming back from the break, the UAE looked a lot more organised across the pitch, but Mohamed Elyounoussi did manage to catch the defence by surprise in the 55th minute with a looping side-volley. Ali Kasheif had to dive backwards to palm it over the crosspiece.

Mahdi Ali’s double change in the 58th minute – Mabkhout coming in for Al Hammadi and Hassan replacing Ahmed Ali – further strengthened UAE’s position in the midfield and, for the first time in the game, they were dominating the possession. In the first half, the hosts had 56 per cent of the possession; at the end of 90 minutes, it was 50-50.

Still, the UAE did little to threaten the Norway defence. Until the 73rd minute, when a sluggish Khalil was replaced by Haboush Saleh, the UAE did not have a single shot on target and that did not change in the remaining minutes.

Perhaps the return of Omar Abdulrahman to the midfield will change that output in the coming matches. The UAE, who are camping in Austria as part of their preparations for November’s Gulf Cup in Saudi Arabia and the Asian Cup in January, will play two more matches before they return home on September 8 – against Lithuania on September 3 and Paraguay four days later.

Norway will also be in action on September 3, travelling to England for a friendly, before starting their European Cup qualifying campaign against Italy six days later.

“It was a hard game,” said Elyounoussi, the Norwegian striker. “The UAE have shown they are a good team, with many quality players. They are really good as a team and do a good job of playing the ball between them.

“So I believe both teams will be happy with the result. We are also a young team and we need to learn from this game and move forward. England is a big match for us and we hope we can have a good performance.”

arizvi@thenational.ae

Follow our sports coverage on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Published: August 28, 2014 04:00 AM

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