Dubai: The UAE’s football coach Jorge Luis Pinto will have a lot of positives to draw from despite the hosts going down 1-2 against a strong Uzbekistan in an international friendly played at Shabab Al Ahli Dubai’s Rashid Stadium late on Monday.
The friendly match in the Fifa international window was part of the preparation for the joint qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup finals that have now been postponed at least till next year.
A second-half double from Igor Sergeev made all the difference as Uzbekistan controlled proceedings to get past the hosts. With star striker Eldor Shomurodov absent, Sergeev made the most of the chances that came his way in finding the back of the net in the 48th and 86th minutes before UAE debutant Sebastián Tagliabúe pulled one back from the penalty spot well into injury full-time period.
Looking to bounce back from Thursday’s home defeat to Iran, Uzbekistan started strongly and were all over the UAE half and was it not for an alert Khalid Eisa at the UAE goal, things could well have been different. UAE-based Otabek Shukurov was the first to test Eisa within the opening two minutes.
UAE coach Pinto handed out international debuts to naturalised stars Tagliabúe and Fábio Lima, but it was Shabab Al Ahli Dubai defender Mohammed Marzooq who came closest to scoring when his close-range header flashed wide in the 35th minute.
Sergeev, who had also threatened in the opening 45 minutes, put the visitors ahead three minutes after the interval while seizing on an errant touch from Khamis Esmail before calmly stroking the ball past Eisa from close range.
The scorer of 17 league goals last season and 12 so far this campaign, the Pakhtakor frontman then hammered in Uzbekistan’s second with four minutes remaining, benefitting from a terrific dummy from club teammate Jaloliddin Masharipov before beating Eisa from just outside the penalty area.
Shukurov forced Eisa into a smart save which prevented Uzbekistan from going three ahead in the 89th minute, but Tagliabúe gave Pinto’s charges a semblance of hope when he punished a handball offence by Igor Golban from the penalty spot in the first minute of added time. However, the 35-year-old’s debut goal served only as consolation for the hosts, with Sergeev’s brace enough to seal the win for Uzbekistan.
The UAE squad have now returned to their clubs where they will continue preparations to kick-off the opening round of the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) on October 16-17.