Pivotal forward Ahmed Al Attas was spot on when it mattered for the UAE as his last-gasp penalty against spiky Lebanon exorcised a night of frustration and pushed his nation to the verge of 2018 AFC U-23 Championship qualification.
Coach Hassan Al Abdoli had looked set to explode on the touchline as he watched his dominant charges waste a succession of chances and be inexplicably denied a previous spot-kick. With only one side guaranteed entry to next January’s tournament in
China and emerging Uzbekistan up next in tomorrow’s Group D-finale, precious points seemed poised to drain away at Al Ain’s Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium.
Yet a clumsy barge in the back from Cedars defender Khaled Ali on substitute Ali Eid provided Al Attas – scythed down moments earlier by the same player in the box, only for referee Mohammed Al Hoish to wave play on – with an opportunity to strike.
Watched on by note taking senior coach Edgardo Bauza, the 21-year-old Al Jazira starlet stroked the ball low into the bottom corner in the 84th minute for his third goal during two impressive matches.
A draw now against the Uzbeks, who earlier beat minnows Nepal 2-0, will suffice because of their superior goal difference, with defeat still leaving open the possibility of progression as one of five-best runners-up.
The first half was one to forget for Al Wahda playmaker Khalid Bawazir as he spurned a trio of presentable opportunities.
Al Attas then became the key figure. A low shot was well saved by goalkeeper Mostafa Matar, before he was fouled without punishment and then remained undaunted to convert the treasured winner.
The impact of the Qatar blockade was forcibly felt in Middle East football this weekend as Dubai’s Al Wasl angrily stated they “reject dealing with any (Qatari) club, institution or sports body” after reports stated star forward Fabio De Lima could be sold to Doha’s Al Rayyan.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen and the Maldives all severed relations with the nation last month because of its alleged support for terrorism. This has forced strain on relations between the nations, at all levels.
As such, reports in midweek about a €10 million (Dh42.1m) move for the 24-year-old winner of Best Foreign Player at the 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League Awards forced a stinging rebuttal from the Cheetahs management.
“Al Wasl has always been a symbol of patriotism throughout its history,” a club statement read about De Lima, who has scored 61 times in 76 run-outs since his 2014 arrival from Atletico Goianiense.
“It is committed to everything our wise leadership does and stands behind it. Al Wasl never fails its duties to the homeland and our leadership, against a state that has tried to undermine the stability of our country and our security.
“It is our responsibility to categorically reject dealing with any club, institution or sports body in Qatar in any way.”
AGL champions Al Jazira have agreed deals for El Jaish pair Sardor Rashidov and Romarinho, but both are free agents after the Doha side merged with Lekhwiya.
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.