Hosts Indonesia criticised the Australian referee for awarding two controversial penalties to the UAE in their Asian Games round of 16 encounter – both of which were scored as the Whites went on to triumph in a penalty shootout in Cikarang, West Java, on Thursday.
Indonesia twice trailed but equalised, including for a second time in the dying seconds, to send the game to extra-time and eventually penalties, cheered on by 25,000 partisan fans.
Robert Evans awarded the Whites their first spot kick in the 20th minute, Andy Setyo adjudged to have felled young Al Jazira striker Zayed Al Ameri.
The 21-year-old, who scored a brace in the 4-1 group stage hammering of Timor-Leste, dispatched the spot kick, but the hosts leveled through Alberto “Beto” Goncalves seven minutes into the second half.
Evans again angered the home side when he pointed to the spot for a second time in the 65th minute, Al Ameri taking full advantage to regain the lead for the UAE. Again the hosts came back though, Stefano Lilipaly netting his fourth goal of the tournament deep into stoppage time to force extra-time.
A winner could not be found and so spot kicks would prove decisive. The UAE were more clinical from 12 yards: Al Ameri, Ahmed Al Attas, Khalid Ibrahim and Hussein Abdulla all successful, with Abdullah Ghanem off target.
Maulana Septian and Saddil Ramdani missed for Indonesia as the UAE earned a 4-3 win.
But Luis Milla’s side felt the referee had played a big part in their exit.
“Today is a sad day for us. The second penalty should not have been awarded,” Indonesia goalkeeper Andritany Ardhiyasa told reporters after the match.
“The second penalty was dubious because there was minimal contact,” Spanish coach Milla added.
“The referee doesn’t have any competence to officiate at the Asian Games. He is not on that level. He’s the [opponent’s] 12th player and I am sad that our players’ struggle had to end like this.”
The UAE will now move on to the quarter-finals where they will face North Korea on Monday. The winners of Saudi Arabia and Japan await in the last four.
They may have scraped into the last 16, but the UAE’s path to the later stages of the 2018 Asian Games appears fairly clear.
Maciej Skorza’s men take on hosts Indonesia in Cikarang on Friday, knowing that a place in the semi-finals is realistically theirs for the taking.
Though the teams competing are the Under-23 group, the senior UAE and Indonesia sides are poles apart in terms of the FIFA rankings.
The south-east Asian minnows are ranked 164th in the world – 87 places behind the UAE.
Negotiate their way past the co-hosts and the UAE’s task could be even easier with a quarter-final tie against either North Korea or Bangladesh awaiting them.
The Koreans are ranked just outside the top 100 (108th) but Bangladesh are 194th in the world – the rankings only go down to 206th.
Also in the Junior Whites’ favour is that two forgetful games to open the tournament – Skora’s side lost 1-0 to Syria before trouncing hapless Timor-Leste 4-1 – was followed by a stirring 2-1 defeat to rampant Group C winners China on Sunday.
The Junior Whites had gained a deserved lead on Sunday through Fujairah winger Mohammed Khalfan’s snapped low finish against qualified opponents, who came into the clash with a goal difference of +9.
Beijing Guoan left winger Wei Shihao cut inside onto his favoured right boot and arrowed a powerful effort past Mohamed Al Shamsi to equalise.
Shandong Luneng midfielder Yao Junsheng then looked up from near the halfway line on 71 minutes and powerfully lobbed Al Wahda goalkeeper Al Shamsi to seal a come-from-behind victory.
Despite a second defeat in two games, the UAE snuck in to the last 16 as one of the four best third-place finishers. If they can win their next two games, the last four is where things will start to get tricky.
Make the semis and one of Asia’s heavyweights will greet them, with China taking on Gulf rivals Saudi Arabia and Japan facing Malaysia on the UAE’s side of the draw.
The UAE take on Indonesia at 13:00 UAE time on Friday.
The numbers make sorry reading for miserly UAE boss Alberto Zaccheroni.
Saturday’s worrisome draw against minnows Andorra featured zero goals. It came against opponents ranked 130th in the world by FIFA, 56 places below the UAE.
This was the listless culmination of an 18-day training camp in the undulating Austrian countryside. A period in which fissures were opened up in the relationships with two of the nation’s biggest sides, Al Ain and Al Jazira, both angered by limited preparatory time for Arab Club Champions Cup ties.
In the 10 months of Zaccheroni’s cheerless reign, his record in internationals reads; four wins, four draws and four defeats. The Whites have become a boon to insomniacs throughout this period, scoring just four goals and conceding five.
Their run to consequential defeat in the winter’s Gulf Cup contained one strike in normal time.
Striker Ali Mabkhout got it from the penalty spot in the group-stage opener against Oman. For comparison, he top scored in 2014’s previous edition with five goals under Mahdi Ali.
Mabkhout is one of the UAE’s three totems, alongside now Al Hilal playmaker Omar Abdulrahman and 2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil. The first two mentioned broke curfew – along with now-discarded right-back Mohammed Fawzi – before the Gulf Cup final defeat to Oman and have played zero UAE internationals since.
Even though March’s exile for the Thailand’s King’s Cup ended this summer, neither were present for Sunday’s depressing stalemate at Grodig’s sun-drenched DAS.GOLDBERG Stadion.
Mabkhout is back in Abu Dhabi with Al Jazira after a 2-1 loss to Riyadh’s Al Nassr in last week’s ACCC’s opener. Abdulrahman had the small matter of making a winning debut for new paymasters in Saturday’s Saudi Super Cup clash against Al Ittihad at London’s Loftus Road.
Any Asian nation missing such premium talents will struggle. Even against Andorra.
Where insight could be found in the dour, aged methods of Zaccheroni came in the make-up of the starting XI selected.
The Italian could not help himself and chose eight defensively-minded players at kick-off. Only Khalil and fellow Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club star Ismail Al Hammadi could be classified as out-and-out attackers.
The digits to cause real concern are: 140. This is the number of days left over until the bumbling UAE kick-off the continental festivities against Bahrain on January 5.
Frankly, preparations could hardly be going any worse.
It’s seven years since Zaccheroni won the Asian Cup with Japan and 19 years since his defining Serie A success with AC Milan. Temptation must be building within the UAE Football Association to make it four different coaches since the beginning of March 2017.