Dubai: Cup-winning super-sub, Esmail Al Hammadi, revealed that coach Mahdi Ali had kissed him on the head and told him to get the decisive goal before entering Friday’s Gulf Cup final against Iraq with the scores tied at 1-1.
Iraq’s Younus Mahmoud had already levelled Omar Abdul Rahman’s half-hour opener with 10 minutes to spare to take an already nail-biting final into extra time.
But then, at the start of the second half of extra-time, Al Hammadi ran on to a one-two from Omar and Amer Abdul Rahman to net the historic winner, earning the UAE only their second title in the 43-year-old competition — their first coming in 2007.
Al Hammadi, who was brought on for Ali Mabkhout just after the hour, said: “Mahdi told me: ‘I want you get the winning goal’. He told me to play with confidence and without fear.
“It was a difficult match and a lot was required of me to implement certain things on the pitch but I managed to grab that opportunity.
“The words of Mahdi were the reasons behind my self-confidence and my belief to score that goal. I’m happy with this win: the first Gulf Cup title in my career with the team. I will never forget this goal for as long as I live, as it will be the most valuable goal of my life.”
Meanwhile, Omar Abdul Rahman, who scored the opener against Iraq, rounding four defenders in a manner likened to Diego Maradona’s 1986 World Cup semi-final goal against England, said: “The result came with the participation of all the players and we thank God we were able to please the fans and the people of the UAE. This is a simple offering for the people of the country and the UAE team is the reason behind my success.”
Majed Hassan, whose late second group match-winner against Bahrain helped the team qualify for the semi-finals, but who was an unused substitute for the final, said: “There is a state of denial among the players, because this goal is the achievement of a nation, not of individuals.
“I am an individual in a group and we are all at the heart of one man. I’m not sad I didn’t play because I have confidence in the coach — and we are all ready to support one another as a unit in the name of national service, whenever called upon.
“To participate is more important and this is a good start with the team for me. I played in the youth national teams and the Olympic set-up, but to have an opportunity with the first team is indescribable. I will endeavour to maintain this and I will fight in the league in order to continue with the national team in coming tournaments.”
Other players stressed the need to continue this current winning form and added that the win proved their critics wrong.
Midfielder Khamis Esmail said: “In this tournament, we responded to everyone that said we have no experience and this win is just the beginning for other tournaments.”
Ali Saeed added: “We have shown that we are champions and this is our reply to all who said we are beginners and Omar Abdul Rahman and the rest of the team proved to the people they are men on the pitch.”
Defender Mohannad Salem said: “I hope the team remains at this level and that this is only the first achievement for the team outside of the UAE.”