Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s 2015 Asian Cup qualifying win over Uzbekistan on Friday night continued the country’s recent superiority over their central Asian rivals.
The UAE have beaten them at all levels, including in the final of the Asian Youth Championship in 2008, last year’s crucial final under-23s qualifier for the London Olympic Games, and the qualifiers for the 2011 Asian Cup.
Striker Ahmad Khalil has scored vital goals in all three events, while Chinese referee Tan Hai, who oversaw the most recent match, also officiated the final of the Asian Youth Championship in Saudi Arabia five years ago.
But the performance of the UAE team in the first half of Friday’s match, which they won 2-1, left some unanswered questions, particularly regarding the defenders. They often seemed to panic and their haste resulted in many misplaced passes in dangerous situations, including one which resulted in the visitors’ goal.
UAE head coach Mahdi Ali changed both the style of play and some of the players at the start of the second half, giving the team their usual composure. “The coach changed the plan with his instructions during the break and we played a good second half,” goalkeeper Ali Khaseef said after the match.
Ali said: “The flanks did not perform as expected. So we changed some players to do that part of the plan.”
Esmail Mattar and Haboosh Saleh were introduced to strengthen the attacking side, while later on Majed Hassan was given the chance to shore up the midfield.
But Ali was not convinced that the team was poor in the first half. “We created some scoring chances but failed to score goals. It is always good to see Ahmad [Khalil] and Ali [Mabkhoot] scoring goals in strong international matches, despite the fact that they are not always starting matches for their clubs in domestic and continental competitions.
“I am happy for the fantastic fans who came to support us and I hope that our players will take a rest this summer because the players of this particular team did not take good rest since they were playing in the youth level five years ago. This summer I believe they will take a good rest because our next obligation will come at the end of the year.”
Mattar, the captain of the team who was on the bench in the first half, said: “There is no player who has booked their place in the team. We are all equal — when the coach asks any of us to play, then we are ready to do just that. I have complete confidence in the technical staff and my colleagues.”
Regarding the second-half transformation, Mattar said: “During the break my colleagues showed great determination to change the result and I felt sure that they would do. They did not let their fans and country down.”