Dubai: Goalkeeper Mohammad Al Jasmi was the hero of the evening saving two penalty kicks as the UAE made their fourth semi-final appearance with a hard-fought 2-1 extra-time penalty shoot-out win — the score was 1-1 at full-time — over Asian champions Japan in the Intercontinental Beach Soccer Cup that is being played at Jumeirah’s Kite Beach.
A fourth place in the inaugural year in 2011, followed by two third-place finishes in 2012 and 2013, the UAE form has slumped recently in the nine years of this annual competition. Spain topped Group A with four points, while Thursday’s win saw the UAE end second in Group A even though tied on three points with Japan.
As expected, this was a fast-paced and open match with both teams putting equal emphasis on attack and defence. It was the home team that were more adventurous upfront and the nippy Ahmad Beshr was unlucky to see at least two of his shots go wide.
Japan, on the other hand, were only too content to soak up the pressure while waiting for the odd opportunity to counter attack. On one occasion, Japan did come close when Masanori Okuyama was brought down in front of goal. But UAE goalkeeper Al Jasmi was up to the task as he got his fingertips on the penalty kick that hit the upright and bounced back safely.
After two barren and well-contested periods, the UAE suffered a fateful moment in the second minute of the final session when Japan were awarded a free-kick for a foul on Takaaki Oba close to the penalty spot. The midfielder kept his cool and placed the resultant kick to the right of UAE goalkeeper Al Jasmi.
But the hosts simply refused to give up and continued pressing for an equaliser that finally came through a quirk of fate as defender Kosuke Matsuda’s back pass went over Tomoya Ginoza with just 12 seconds left before the final whistle to send the encounter into three minutes of extra-time.
And when neither team managed to break the 1-1 deadlock, it was down to the penalty shoot-out where Al Jasmi saved two kicks — off Masanori Okuyama and Oba — while Kamal Ali and Waleed Beshr were spot on after Abbas Ali had sent the opening kick wide off goal.
Russia 3 Mexico 1
Iran 5 Egypt 3.
Italy 8 Spain 7
Mexico 1 Egypt 4
UAE 1 Japan 1
(UAE win 2-1 on penalties)