UAE keep slim World Cup 2018 dream alive with shock Saudi Arabia win

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Khalil's the king: UAE players celebrate Ahmed Khalil's goal (Getty).

A dream this big was worth fighting for, after all.

In the absence of waylaid superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman and with long-held hopes of making World Cup 2018 on life support, goals of staggering quality from Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil saw off resurgent Saudi Arabia and kept the UAE, by the slenderest of margins, in contention.

Rampant Al Jazira front man Mabkhout – who would worryingly later trundle off with a groin problem – channelled Luka Modric and Zlatan Ibrahimovic as a delicate touch and stretched limb saw him produce an immediate, and memorable, equaliser to visiting winger Nawaf Al Abed’s 20th-minute penalty.

Even better was to come on the hour mark as his strike partner, now for club and country, smashed in a swerving thunderbolt from 30 yards to go level at the top of the global scoring charts with 16 goals during qualification.

Ultimately, a performance detailed by such composure and commitment can – in all probability – be filed away as belated. The inquest into why paternal coach Mahdi Ali was allowed to limp on for so long and replacement Edgardo Bauza given such little time to make an impact with the ‘Golden Generation’ can wait for another day.

The Whites have hope, small but still tangible. This is more than they could have expected after their aspirations seemingly evaporated into a steamy Bangkok night in June when the Argentine supremo’s debut ended in a deflating 1-1 draw against bottom-placed Thailand.

The odds remain stacked against them when the third-and-final round winds up in Jordan against eliminated Iraq next Tuesday. A turnaround in goal difference of at least eight must be achieved, with results elsewhere in Group B going their way.

But stranger things have happened. Few would have thought they could come behind against the Saudis, regional giants they last felled a decade ago – with this bruising run including nine losses and one draw.

The Green Falcons wings have been clipped by this unexpected reversal. Hopes of an automatic return to the globe’s premier sporting event for the first time since 2006 were probably ended at a half-full Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Tuesday night.

Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk will head the interested observers when Japan and Australia meet in Saitama on Thursday.

The portents for this enlivening result were not present an hour before kick-off when the expected absence of Riyadh-born ‘Amoory’ through an ankle knock was confirmed.

It was left to 117-cap veteran Ismail Matar of Al Wahda to fill the void in a new 4-3-1-2 formation.

This shape fitted perfectly for the UAE, bringing out the best in their deadly strikers while providing a sound base – long absent under Ali’s outmoded 4-4-2 – in midfield.

But a strong start received a blow when sloppy play by Al Nasr midfielder Tariq Ahmed led to Al Abed being dragged down, under minimal contact, by right-back Mohammed Fawzi in the box.

The man who missed last week’s AFC Champions League quarter-final between his Al Hilal and Al Ain at the Hazza because of heart palpitations was unmoved as he calmly slotted in.

Relief for the second-placed visitors was to be brief. Mabkhout magically trapped a hopeful punt by Tariq Ahmed, swivelling and instantly finding the bottom corner from just inside the box.

The Saudis just could not get going, 16-goal qualifying goal getter Mohammad Al Sahlawi completing a trio of missed opportunities when he dragged wide.

The interval did little to change the flow and the UAE were to unforgettably go ahead through Khalil’s rocket.

Route one was the response from the increasingly-desperate Saudis. But led by the redoubtable Al Ain centre-back Mohanad Salem, not even the injury-time dismissal of left-back Mahmoud Khamis could deny them a deserved and encouraging victory.

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Five du LaLiga HPC players invited for trials at top LaLiga Clubs

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du LaLiga High Performance Centre announced Monday that five of its players have been awarded trials by LaLiga’s top youth clubs, following their 21-day scouting camp in Spain.

Málaga FC selected U18 wingers Ahmed Salam and Yahia Iraqi and U16 striker Mehdi Elkhamlichi, whereas U18 player Mohammed Rajeh and team captain Mohammed Bouherrafa were invited for trials at Cádiz FC and UD Alméria respectively.

In addition, five other players, including U16 defender Abhinav John and U18 striker Rami Hatem, are on the radar of major clubs, including Barcelona.

The du LaLiga HPC squads completed a year-long training program in Dubai at the hands of top coaches, and played over 30 competitive matches in preparation for their annual trip to Spain with hopes of being discovered by club scouts.

Top talented players are selected annually to join the du LaLiga HPC from over 7,000 hopefuls participating in the du Football Champions, to represent the finest of the UAE’s rising stars.

Commenting on the selection of talents Abdulwahed Juma, Executive Vice President, Brand and Corporate Communications, du, said, “The selection of five players from the du LaLiga HPC by LaLiga clubs reflects the importance of this platform in providing the youth of the UAE with an opportunity to play professional football. It also reflects the power of the platform to uncover talent and give them an opportunity to pursue their dreams to be a part of the world’s strongest league.”

The du Football Champions in partnership with LaLiga has created the only international scouting platform to enable youth from across the UAE to pursue international football careers.

Scouted talents are invited to join the du LaLiga High Performance Centre where they are trained by LaLiga coaches in preparation for professional football careers nationally and internationally.

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Al Ain FC unveil new Nike home and away kits for 2017/18 season

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Nike has officially announced the launch of the new Al Ali 2016/17 kit, as the partnership between the Boss and the renowned global brand continues.

The new home kit allies cutting-edge Aeroswift technology with a contemporary aesthetic, reinterpreting the club’s heritage alongside a fresh application of its signature purple and gold colors.

The jersey features the club’s iconic purple color with a darker composition on the shoulders and sleeves. As an ode to club pride, the V-neck collar has a golden band on the back.

The Nike swoosh is offset in gold whilst the club’s storied emblem is featured in its traditional colors on the jersey and shorts. The kit is complemented with purple shorts and white socks.

Al Ain will debut the new home kit against Al Hilal in the AFC Champions League quarter-final on Monday and will be in-store along with the away kit starting August 31 at authorized retailers at 399 AED.

Let us know what you make of the new kit – get in touch on Twitter or via Facebook.

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