UAE coach Mahdi Ali was happy to ‘win ugly’ after seeing his side advance to the semi-finals of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup thanks to a 5-4 penalty win over Japan in Sydney on Friday.
Noting that pretty football doesn’t always guarantee you a result, Ali lauded the heart and determination that saw his team over the line in an intense battle against the reigning champions of Asia.
“You don’t always have to place nice football to win the game, sometimes you have to play with your heart and with your spirit to win the game,” said Ali after seeing his side relinquish a 1-goal lead which they held from the 7th to the 81st minute, before Japan forced extra-time and penalties.
“Football sometimes is not fair. It was not fair for us in the Iran game and today I think we deserved to go on to the semi-final.”
Up next is another tough test for the UAE against hosts Australia at what will likely be a raucous sold out Newcastle Stadium, but their coach thinks they can go one step further and make it all the way to the Asian Cup final for the first time since 1996, when they fell to Saudi Arabia on home soil.
“Beating Japan will give the players more confidence and motivation for the next game,” added the Whites’ boss.
“Playing against Australia in Australia will be a very tough game. We will try and recover well and prepare the team for the next match.”
Japan coach Javier Aguirre agreed that the UAE defended their lives in denying his team, stating that they were better in every department.
“We had good shots on set plays and good possession of the ball I think we were superior than the opponent, but they played the match of their lives and I want to congratulate them,” said Aguirre.
“I feel proud of the team because they gave everything in the 120 minutes we played better than the opponents in every aspect including the attack,
“We had a lack of care at the start of the game and that’s why we took a goal and we had to fight for goals till the last minute.
“I thought they had a seriously great defensive game, after the goal for 110 minutes they retreated, they played for 110 minutes from the back. I wish them the best.”
Ali’s men now face a nation keen for football success and beaming with pride in their country’s performances so far and must expect a tidal wave of home support even greater than the overwhelming Japanese attack, which they famously denied.
The UAE qualified for the Asian Cup semi-finals after securing a 5-4 win on penalties against Japan at Stadium Australia. Video courtesy of Asian Cup YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXTRFt1vLvZpahQtiKJjLaQ
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: A combination of shocking penalty misses from Japan stars Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa and UAE players holding their nerve have seen the Emirati minnows eliminate the reigning champions on penalties, 5-4 at Sydney’s Stadium Australia in front of 19,904 fans.
The result, the biggest upset of this Asian Cup, was guaranteed by substitute Ismail Ahmed who struck a ferocious winning penalty past Eiji Kawashima to send Mahdi Ali’s men into a semi-final against hosts Australia on Tuesday in Newcastle, New South Wales.
After Honda skied the first penalty of the game, each player scored until Khamis Esmaeel blasted high and wide to put the shootout back on level terms.
The sixth man to step up for Japan was Kagawa, the Borussia Dortmund man hitting the post to take the UAE to their first Asian Cup semi-final since being beaten finalists in 1996.
Ali Mabkhout’s glorious seventh-minute volley handed The Whites an early lead which the UAE desperately clung on to for eighty minutes as Japan laid siege on Majed Nasser’s goal time and time again.
A stubborn UAE defence was finally broken down in the 81st minute, substitute midfielder Gabu Shibasaki unleashing a wicked curling strike past the diving Nasser.
Superb all night, the UAE owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to Nasser, who kept them in the game right up until the shootout..
His first big save came when after just 17 minutes as the Samurai Blue nearly had their equaliser after some fancy footwork from Gotoku Sakai on the right wing saw him beat Abdelaziz Sanqour all ends up, but Takashi Inui failed to convert a golden chance.
With the goal beckoning the unmarked Inui ghosted in at the back post only to head the ball straight at the Al Ahli stopper.
Japan were lively and comfortable on the ball, with most of their best play coming down their right flank. But Kagawa, Sakai, Honda and Shinji Okazaki were all left frustrated by a stout UAE defence.
It wasn’t until the 42nd minute of the half that Honda would have his first real chance as the AC Milan star darted inside the box off his left foot and unleashed a wicked strike that could only find the side-netting. The UAE breathed a sigh of relief but it was a sign of things to come.
It took nearly 50 minutes for Omar Abdulrahman to show the class that has won him many admirers Down Under, his deft flick over the top for a volleying Mabkhout almost leading to the striker’s second of the game.
Japan had several gilt-edged chances before Shibasaki finally struck a late bow and forced the game into extra time with his 81st minute goal.
The UAE held on to deny Japan with a combination of superb organisation and more than their fair share of good luck to send the match into an additional half an hour of extra-time.
Much of the same continued as Japan pushed forward and the UAE held firm.
And so it was left to a second penalty shootout of the day and the UAE’s heroes to step up to the mark and send their country through to the semi-finals. It also gave Omar the chance to showcase his talents once more with a sublime paneka that showed off the youngster’s outrageous ability and confidence.
Oh Omar… https://t.co/qAdK2VjDwq
— Sport360° (@Sport_360) January 23, 2015