UAE players in action during the AFC Asian Cup semi-final against Qatar in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Dubai: The UAE went out of the Asian Cup on Tuesday night, exiting to a dominant Qatar side who won 4-0 and will now face Japan in the final on Friday.

However, the hosts can depart with their heads held high as they captivated the crowds — from home and abroad — during the tournament, and they more than held their own against the Qataris. After bossing the opening period at a sold-out Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday night, the Whites were inches away from taking the lead when Ali Mabkhout was denied by Saad Al Sheeb on 21st minute. Disaster stuck as the hosts and their fans looked on in despair as Qatar broke upfield and took the lead through a strike by Boualem Khoukhi that slipped through the normally safe hands of Khalid Essa.

Few expected the hosts to make it as far as they did, given the presence of continental heavyweights such as Japan, South Korea And Australia, alongside Middle East big boys Iran and Iraq.

Yet, Alberto Zaccheroni’s side continued to punch above their weight, despite a slow start to the tournament that saw them draw with Bahrain before they got into their stride with a win over India, a hard-fought point against Thailand to win Group A and then most notably, when they sent the defending champions Socceroos tumbling out of the tournament in the quarter-finals.

It was always going to be a big ask for the UAE to lift the trophy and their wait for a major title goes on. But on this showing it will be a case of when, not if, they get the recognition they deserve.