Esmail Matar
Esmail Matar Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Abu Dhabi: UAE’s star striker Ahmad Khalil may have had a short stint of nine minutes in the opener against Bahrain, he made it count on Saturday.

It was his penalty conversion that allowed the UAE to steal a draw from the jaws of defeat after Bahrain led in the 78th minute through Mohammad Al Romaihi’s goal.

Though it wasn’t an authoritative performance, Khalil felt that it was important not start on a losing note and now they should look to build on the start. “It was important today to not lose the game,” said Khalil, adding: “The good thing is that we came back and now we have to think about the next game.”

Khalil accepted that their showing was not up to the mark and every player in the team is aware of it. “Every player feels for what happened today and they are thinking about the next game and to hopefully get three points. We will see how we can get those three points.”

Khalil, however, brushed aside suggestions that there was any pressure on the side as hosts to deliver straightaway. “I wouldn’t say pressure but you know this is the first game and this is football. Sometimes, you play good and sometimes you don’t. But from now on we have to fight and work more. Inshallah, we can comeback strongly in the next match.”

Captain Esmail Mattar, who didn’t step on to the field due to reasons best known to coach Alberto Zaccheroni, but too stressed that opening contests are always difficult and that the team has come out with some lessons that will come in handy in the next two matches.

“Every member of the team is experienced enough and knows how to play in a big tournament as the Asian Cup. They understand their role and responsibility in the side. They know the level of focus that is required to win the next game. My job is to lead and motivate my team and not offer just advice,” said Mattar, who urged the fans to back the team and not get upset with this result.

“I’m aware that the fans will be upset with the result. However, they have always been supportive and stood strongly behind us during our challenges. I’m hopeful that they will come out and support us in the next game. We assure them that in the next game, we will compensate for our ordinary performance today,” said Matar.

“We had our chances in the beginning but once the match progressed, Bahrain gained confidence and showed a good level. We were hoping to win the match but the good thing was that we were able to return with a draw. The contest showed that in football, there is no team rated big or small.”