Defeat in their final qualifier plus Sri Lanka’s withdrawal leaves the UAE in limbo as to whether they can reach next year’s AFC U-23 Championships.
The 2-0 loss saw Uzbekistan win Group D and book their ticket for next January’s tournament. But the UAE, who thrashed Nepal 5-0 in their opening game, could now see that result expunged as fears gather that the Lankan Lions pulling out could mean results against teams finishing bottom of each of the 10 groups will be chalked off.
That would leave the UAE, now left chasing one of five best runner-up spots, facing disaster with a -1 goal difference following last night’s loss.
In all likelihood two wins from three games should have been good enough to yield a place in China for Hassan Al Abdoli’s Whites, but they ceded their advantage at the top of Group B to Uzbekistan, who scored two late goals to win the group.
And the controversy surrounding Sri Lanka’s withdrawal heaps more misery on for the Whites.
After a lackluster first half, towering centre-back Islomjon Kobilov nodded Ravshan Khaydarov’s in front with 23 minutes remaining. And with the Whites visibly wilting in the Al Ain heat, Uzbek maverick Javokhir Sidikov rifled in an unstoppable second in added time to seal victory.
The UAE will now have to wait to find out their fate, with Group D the only one of 10 to have completed their quota of games. All other groups played their openers last night with the 16 teams to appear at the Championships decided on the final day on Sunday.
It was an opportunity missed for the hosts, who fell to defeat after two straight wins against Nepal and Lebanon.
Hosting a tournament in mid-July amid 40+ degree UAE heat hadn’t seemed the smartest idea and despite the game kicking off at 18:25, the humidity was not condusive to flowing football as both sides struggled for rhythm in a tepid opening 45 minutes.
The first attempt of any note didn’t arrive until the 43rd minute when Uzbekistan captain Zabikhillo Urinboev’s goal-bound header from Akramjon Komilov’s speculative cross was plucked out of the air by Al Ain goalkeeper and UAE skipper Mohammed Busanda.
Al Jazira forward Ahmed Al Attas then headed over before Bani Yas’ Suhail Al Noubi met a knockdown and rocketed a shot goalwards, which was impressively beaten away for a corner by Ergashev Botirali.
The second period was infinitely more memorable and Whites’ talisman Mohamed Al Akbari, of Al Wahda, again stung the palms of Botirali just prior to the hour after fine skill to beat his marker.
The game was becoming more open and Urinboev got on the end of Kobilov’s lofted ball but Busanda stood up brilliantly to block his shot for a corner.
It was only a brief reprieve though as, from the resulting corner, Busanda came out to gather but got caught in traffic and the grateful Kobilov headed into an open goal.
The goal visibly lifted the visitors who could sniff the blood of the men in red, and it should have been 2-0 minutes later when the UAE were caught in possession at the back. Midfielder Odiljon Xamrobekov ghosted onto a througball that cut the UAE open and rounded Busanda, but he lost his balance and lifted his effort onto the top of the net as the Whites survived.
UAE substitutes Shaheen Surour and Ali Eid combined, the latter heading the former’s whipped free-kick narrowly over and a clever Al Attas ball then found young Boss forward Eid but he rushed his effort when he had space and Botirali gathered.
With time running out, Sidikov, the best player on the pitch, settled matters when he raced into the box to meet Azizjon Ganiev’s astute cut-back to thump an unstoppable finish into the roof of Busanda’s net.
Al Ain are steeling themselves for the possible exit of their Emirati lynchpin Omar Abdulrahman after pictures emerged on social media yesterday of a letter sent to the Boss from French Ligue 1 club Nice requesting to loan the supremely talented playmaker.
Although the letter, which surfaced on Twitter, was dated June 27 and did not appear on any offical outlets, the Garden City side have reportedly rejected an initial offer from Les Aiglons (the Eaglets), although speculation is mounting that a deal could be struck.
The letter initially requests the current Asian Player of the Year on a loan deal, but with the view to a permanent move to the club located on the south east coast of France.
It is understood that a Nice official travelled to the Garden City this week to discuss the transfer, with a deal reported to be more possible due to Nice having qualified for next season’s Champions League following a third place finish in Ligue 1 last term.
Although there was no offical word from Al Ain last night, a club spokesman told Sport360 a hastily-arranged meeting with club chairman Ghanem Al Hajri and team supervisor Mohammed Obeid Hammad was set to discuss Abdulrahman’s future.
If the man known as ‘Amoory’ were to leave home for France, he would join Italy’s former Internazionale, AC Milan and Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli and Brazilian former Bayern Munich defender Dante at Allianz Riviera.
A move away from the comfy confines of Hazza bin Zayed Stadium has been expected ever since Abdulrahman shone for the UAE at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
A two-week trial immediately followed with Premier League giants Manchester City, although a four-year deal broke down because of his own failure to secure a work permit, instead choosing to return to Al Ain.
Nearly every transfer window since arrives with stories of further foreign interest in acquiring Asia’s brightest talent, with Abdulrahman rejecting a one-year loan switch to Portuguese giants Benfica in January 2013.
Speculation intensified in early 2015 that the frizzy-haired magician could finally be on the move that summer with his contract rapidly running down. But instead, Abdulrahman signed a three-year extension in February and revealed a desire to stay with the Boss “for a lifetime”.
Team “Galaxy”, one of more than 860 teams that competed in the second edition of Neymar Jr’s Five football tournament in the UAE, will represent the UAE at the World Finals, competing against teams from more than 64 countries, and set to be held in July at the Instituto Projeto Neymar Jr in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
In the true essence of a Cinderella story that is only seen in the beautiful game, “Galaxy” got their second chance to shine after a spot opened up with a fellow competing team dropping out. Having initially placed as runners up in the Dubai qualifiers, “Galaxy” took their chance by stepping up to the plate and beating team “Five Guys” 2-1 in the Country Finals, which were held at the Heart of Sharjah heritage area on April 21st, 2017.
“We felt really down after not qualifying for the country finals, as we had been dreaming about making it all the way,” said “Galaxy” captain Humaid Hossein Tavakoli.
“When we got the call to participate again, we were full of excitement. The first thing we see in football is spirit, and that is exactly what I saw in my team’s eyes when we played again. We had the mental strength and the chemistry to make it through to the World Finals, and we hope we can make the UAE proud.”
A total of 834 teams competed in the second UAE edition of the Neymar Jr’s Five tournament, hosting 4,030 players from across the country. 16 qualifiers were held for a total of 383 matches, with teams scoring an average of 3.28 goals per match, which translates to 1,256 goals throughout the tournament.
Globally, the tournament was held in 53 countries, hosting 27,262 teams and 104,079 players. 488 qualifiers were held for a total of 6,801 matches, scoring a total of 22,197 goals – an average of 3.26 goals per match.
“Galaxy” will contest the final in Brazil against the top 30 teams from six continents in front of sold out crowds, with the opportunity to meet and train with Neymar Jr in Spain up for grabs for the winning team. The winning team will also be Neymar Jr’s guests at the famous Camp Nou to watch the superstar in action for FC Barcelona. The finals will be held on July 7-8, 2017.