The whirlwind expedition for the UAE’s next generation to reach the peak of Asian football got off to a successful, and predictable, start on Saturday night as they conquered minnows Nepal.
A brace from Al Jazira forward Ahmed Al Attas, plus efforts from the Al Wahda trio of Mohamed Al Akbari, Khalid Bawazir and Mohammed Al Hammadi, saw the men from the Himalayas sent tumbling back down to Earth as the breakneck 2018 AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers got off to a resounding start.
Coach Hassan Al Abdoli must now hope the 5-0 winning margin provides a healthy boost to goal difference in a tight Group D, from which only one side is guaranteed entry to next January’s tournament in China. With Lebanon up next on Monday and emerging Uzbekistan the final combatants on Wednesday, much work remains.
The long-term former assistant to ex-senior supremo Mahdi Ali will have been buoyed by what he saw at a Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium in Al Ain packed by patriotic Nepalese. An elan in attack was matched by exemplary concentration at the back, admittedly against severely-limited opponents.
The rout began in the seventh minute. Bani Yas flyer Suhail Al Noubi was clumsily felled in the box by centre-back Gaurav Budhathoki, allowing Al Attas to lash in from the penalty spot.
The duo then combined to give Al Attas a tap-in, with Wahda forward Al Akbari making it 3-0 with a glancing header. Playmaker Bawazir punished a handball from 12 yards before the break, with substitute Al Hammadi’s diving header rounding out the scoring on the hour mark.