Events near and far, as well as past and present, contrived to kill a long-held dream.
A fated run to World Cup 2018 for the UAE’s ‘Golden Generation’ ended in despair at Amman International Stadium on Tuesday.
The goal rush against Iraq was predictably hampered from the off by the absence of big hitters such as 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman and 2015 Asian Cup top scorer Ali Mabkhout.
Questionable refereeing in Thailand versus Australia allied with Saudi Arabia’s later show of grit against qualified Japan further combined to ensure a deflating denouement, when slip-ups were required from these regional heavyweights to barrel into Group B’s top three.
From the ashes of disappointment, introspection must occur. An Asian Cup on home soil in 2019 acts as some compensation at this pained moment. Yet, fumbling on now as though underachievement has not occurred would be a dereliction of duty, no matter the abilities of their opponents.
The facts are that a squad brimming with rare talent fired with frustrating infrequency throughout this lengthy qualification process. The Road to Russia contained too many potholes.
Every aspect has to be analysed. If a nation gripped by civil war like Syria can at least have a shot at an inter-confederation play-off, there is no reason the UAE could not have proceeded.
When an enlivening third place was attained Down Under two January’s ago, such anguish seemed improbable – let alone impossible.
Stasis and then downright descent followed. Successive regimes at the UAE FA chose to ignore the obvious when the second round threatened disaster. Rejecting paternal coach Mahdi Ali’s initial resignation in October only added to the damage.
A laboured process to land successor Edgardo Bauza compounded this. More than a month followed after his dismissal by Argentina and it was another few weeks on top since Ali stepped aside.
This left inadequate time to prepare for June’s calamitous 1-1 draw at bottom-placed Thailand. Decisive action was required then. It is needed again, now.
To stimulate player movement to Europe, a wage cap has been proposed. Such endeavours are essential to break through a glass ceiling.
They would be playing catch-up. Nations such as China have been proactive in this regard during recent years. Australia, Japan and South Korea have been doing it for decades.
This is not to absolve the footballers of blame. Abdulrahman and Mabkhout have repeatedly spoken hollow words about a desire to ply their trade on the old continent.
Cultural and economic issues make this path a difficult one to tread for Emiratis, with no permanent move ever made to the big leagues. Athletes with their gifts should batter down these sizeable barriers.
One win from three does not illustrate the tactical progress made under Bauza. His switch to a 4-3-1-2 formation has belatedly played to long-ignored strengths.
However, El Paton is not without blame. His decision to call-up the emerging Khalfan Mubarak, the heir apparent to ‘Amoory’, for Thailand then drop him for this international break beggars belief.
Communication also remains an issue for someone with negligible English and no Arabic. It is over to him now to prove he is the right man at the wrong time.
To ensure this happens, the entirety of UAE football must be unsparingly reviewed. Only then can joy in 2019 follow.
The international break is almost at a close but with a bevvy of fixtures on offer who were the standout stars during the period?
We take a look at six players who have shone for their countries from Europe and will be worth keeping an eye on as they return to club football.
The Liverpool teenager twice came of the bench for Wales and twice played a pivotal role in securing two victories. The 17-year-old is already well revered at Anfield and announced himself on the international stage with a late screamer to defeat Austria before following up those heroics to cross for Hal Robson-Kanu to head home an 80th-minute opener in the 2-0 win over Moldova. Woodburn’s performances added more shine to Wales’ golden generation.
According to Nick Harris, Luxembourg have taken 24 points from a possible 396 in 132 World Cup qualifiers since the 1930s but achieved four in a week thanks to a 1-0 win over Belarus and a 0-0 draw against a full-strength France. A succession of smart stops from Joubert ensured a resilient defensive wall held firm. The F91 Dudelange stopper’s performance is rightly highlighted but the team’s success in keeping two clean sheets was built on their overall organisation and determination as well.
Denmark have been sensational this week with a 4-0 win over Poland followed up by a 4-1 triumph over Armenia. Werder Bremen midfielder Delaney scored the opener against Poland – his first for Denmark – after nodding in a corner then tore Armenia apart with a stunning treble. His free header from Henrik Dalsgaard’s cross drew the Danes level in the 16th minute before he lit up the second-half with a 30-yard daisy cutter and a well directed header.
Manchester United have finally got the mobile target man they’ve craved as Romelu Lukaku displayed in two games his ability to roam from flank to flank and contrary to much of what he’s been chastised for, retain possession. Oh, and he scored a hat-trick in the 9-0 win over Gibraltar and then scored a well-angled headed winner against Greece to send Belgium through to the World Cup.
Timo Werner is Germany’s new world class star in the making. He’s been directly involved in eight goals in his last five appearances for Die Mannschaft – six goals and two assists. The 21-year-old Leipzig striker has filled the vacuum left by Mario Gomez’s absence and is the type of forward Germany have lacked in that he is fast, technical and a poacher, proving as much with a double against Norway and the opener against Czech Republic.
Real Madrid star Isco might just be the world’s best attacking midfielder right now and his performance against Italy in particular was justification of that. He was exquisite against the Italians, running amok over their two-man midfield, scoring twice and cheekily nutmegging Marco Verratti. He added to his tally with a gift against Liechtenstein in their 8-0 win and what’s clear is he is now consistently applying his other-worldly talent for both club and country.
Former Liverpool midfielder Gary McAllister will play in the DSA Open at Emirates Golf Club on September 14.
The Swing Against Cancer Series has grown out of the Mike Clark Golf Day, a charity golf day that started in honour of Mike Clark, a much-loved figure on the local golf scene who sadly died of bowel cancer in 2012.
Organised by Worldwide Golf and Sixteen10, the DSA Open is the final chance for amateurs and pros to qualify for the Mike Clark Golf Day, which takes place at Jumeirah Golf Estates October 26.
Professional golfers who win the Grand Final get Dh5,000 and a holiday, while amateur winners will receive a place in the DP World Tour Championship Pro-Am in November.
McAllister, who enjoyed a glittering career as a professional footballer, lost his first wife Denise to breast cancer 11 years ago and remains a keen supporter of cancer charity initiatives.
With just over a week until the event in Dubai, McAllister talked about how he got involved in the initiative, his experience of Dubai as a golfing destination and his thoughts on the Premier League season.
What was it that made you get involved in the initiative?
My wife suffered with breast cancer in the past so it’s very close to my heart. Any way we can help to raise awareness is something that we’ll support.
What’s your experience of Dubai as a golf destination?
It’s second to none, the quality of the golf courses and the investment. It’s fantastic. The condition of the courses, bearing in mind the weather – irrigation and how they manage it – it’s superb. I played them all – the Els Club, Dubai Creek. I know all the courses. The clubhouses are pretty spectacular as well.
The event is taking place on the famous Majlis course, where famous names like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Seve Ballesteros have played. What are your thoughts ahead of the event?
A lot of the holes are very familiar. When you’re standing on the tees, you’re looking at some of the lines the pros take, and you’re thinking ‘how on earth do they hit the ball there’. When you get to courses like that, you tend to relate back to some of the holes on TV, some of the great players hitting some great shots.
The Premier League season is just three weeks in, but what are your predictions for the season in terms of who the top four will be?
I see Liverpool competing right to the very top. Obviously with the outlay of cash that Man City have made, I think they will be strong. Manchester United have started well also. There is a powerful look about them. Jose Mourinho has brought in players with a lot more physical presence. There are also Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal to compete with them. It’s getting tougher and tougher. I would have City, United and Liverpool ahead of the other three. If I had to pick a fourth one, I see Antonio Conte grinding Chelsea in there.
Neymar recently signed for PSG for a world record fee of €200 million. Do you think transfer fees have gotten out of hand or is it relative to where the game is now?
It’s quite disturbing, those sort of numbers. It’s bizarre. If there’s a demand in the popularity of the game, it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. If that’s the market and that’s the rate to get the best players in then it’s going to happen. It’s demand. As a professional your always trying to get the best you can get. I don’t know how long it can continue.
Golf and evening event: AED 795 (Emirates Golf Federation members AED 745); Emirates Golf Club members: AED 345 – prices include BBQ, free flow beverages, and prizes.
Evening only: Q&A with Gary McAllister bar games etc. AED 350 or AED 3,000 for a table of 10 – price includes BBQ and free flow beverages.
More info can be found at www.swingagainstcancer.com