Ambition can have an awful effect on a football match.
This was the case on Saturday night as Arabian Gulf League-title hopefuls Al Nasr and Al Wahda played out a bitty 0-0 draw dominated by the fear of losing.
Far more fouls were committed than chances created, the brain-dead dismissal of Clarets right-back Mohamed Al Menhali for two bookings within six first-half minutes bogging down an already-insipid game.
The lack of attacking dynamism was all encompassing at Al Maktoum Stadium. The sight of the top flight’s joint-leading marksman Sebastian Tagliabue tripping over his own feet early in the second period when played clean through by visiting playmaker Jorge Valdivia neatly summed up the low-grade entertainment.
The latter appeared hopelessly jet lagged, standing in the centre circle awaiting fouls following his Friday return from Chile duty.
“These kind of game Valdivia has to play in, we pay him to make the difference against big teams,” boss Javier Aguirre explained.
“It has been a really-hard beginning, but in the last two games I had good feelings.
“Like the Tour de France, we are in the middle of the climb.”
Nasr came into the round leading the table, but have now registered two momentum-sapping stalemates in a row. There was more of an excuse for their numerically-disadvantaged opponents, undoubtedly pleased with four points registered from successive matches against AGL champions Al Ain and the double-cup holders.
The pressure of the game appeared to infect Al Menhali. He was fortunate to escape with just a yellow card for petulantly backhanding Jires Kembo Ekoko, receiving his marching orders on 34 minutes for recklessly diving at the Blue Wave forward’s feet on the touchline.
Home boss Ivan Jovanovic bemoaned a lack of composure for the failure to make the most of his error.
He said: “We had the advantage of an extra player, but we could not make the most of it.
“We rushed to play and we did not create organised attacks. What is very important is that we have to improve our game so we can get big results in the coming weeks.”
— AL Nasr Club (@ALNasrSC) October 17, 2015
The numerical advantage made little difference to proceedings, rampaging left-back Mahmoud Khamis stinging UAE stand-in goalkeeper Adel Al Hosani’s feet with a 30-yard drive as Wahda dug in.
Nasr’s lack of incision continued into the second half, though two good chances were crafted after Tagliabue’s stumble at the other end.
AWOL striker Ibrahima Toure’s absence continued to be felt, replacement Nilmar making it to five scoreless AGL appearances when embarrassingly failing to connect with a teasing Khamis centre.
Still Jovanovic declined to let his troops free, playmaker Luis Jimenez opportunistically hitting the crossbar in injury time when chasing down a loose ball.
Much more is needed from both to make Al Ain and Al Ahli feel threatened.
The UAE players will give “everything” to ensure the nation makes it into the next stage of Asian qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, according to centre-back Ismail Ahmed.
Mahdi Ali’s side suffered a damaging 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia in Jeddah last Thursday, a loss which leaves the UAE in second place in Group A – five points adrift of the Green Falcons.
The winners of each of the eight groups in the second round will qualify for the third round, as well as the four best runners- up. And Ahmed still believes qualification is achievable.
“I think on this day we are not good, we did not play very well and we were second best, but this is football,” the 32-year-old said at the unveiling of Abu Dhabi Motors as Al Ain’s official automotive partner for the 2015-16 season.
“I know it’s not an easy game because we play outside of home against Saudi Arabia. Sometimes we are not on a good day and now we will prepare for the next games against Timor-Leste and Malaysia and I hope we will give better than before.
“We need to work very hard to give our best and give confidence for the fans to come back to support us. We will promise to give them everything and to give them something back at home.”
With the game at King Abdullah Sports Complex Stadium heading for a draw after Mohammad Al Sahlawi had earlier qualised following Ahmed Khalil’s opener for the UAE, the Whites’ creative spark Omar Abdulrahman was adjudged to have fouled Nawaf Al Abed in the box.
Al Sahlawi converted the resulting penalty to leave the visitors deflated. The UAE next play Timor-Leste and Malaysia in a double-header in November and Ahmed said there is no need to panic. “Of course there is no way we are giving up,” he added.
“We still have four games. We need to win all the games and Inshallah we will give a lot for the fans and the UAE to give them confidence.”
The UAE close out the second round with two home games against Palestine and Saudi next March and the Al Ain defender has promised the Whites’ fans the final Group A game against the leaders will see a much-improved performance.
“We will give them a better game, of course,” said Ahmed. “I don’t think we played very well but they played very well.
“We feel very bad and all the players know in the future what we need. “We need to work very hard and give our best.” Khalid Essa, Ahmed’s team-mate at both club and international level, is also looking ahead.
“It was a bad result. I have to say sorry for the people in the UAE and sorry to the president about this result,” said the 26-year-old goalkeeper.
“We have 12 points and four games left and we will do what we need to go to the next round.”
A knee-jerk decision to sack UAE coach Mahdi Ali in the aftermath of last week’s 2018 World Cup qualifying-loss to Saudi Arabia has been “completely ruled out”, according to indignant UAE Football Assocation president Yousif Al Serkal.
The Whites currently sit five points off the Group A-pace in second following a sloppy 2-1 defeat in Jeddah, conceding late goals at the end of both halves to deadly striker Mohammad Al Sahlawi. Only top spot guarantees progression to the AFC’s third round.
The manner of defeat to the leaders after a preceding goalless draw in Palestine has led to supporter disquiet. But for Al Serkal, there is no question about the future of the man who led his nation to a fine third during January’s Asian Cup.
“The issue of rushing to dismiss the technical staff is completely ruled out,” he told the UAE FA website yesterday.
“We have not lost hope, and what is needed now is to restore confidence in them. It is also a certainty that Mahdi will not resign.”
Ali has excelled since he was promoted from the Under-23s in the immediate aftermath of their impressive displays at the London 2012 Olympics. The 2013 Gulf Cup win followed, prior to this year’s bravura performance Down Under.
“It is natural for the Emirates audience to grieve,” Al Serkal continued. “This is their right because they are accustomed to great things from this generation and a high fighting spirit.
“We find ourselves in a position which is lower than our expected level. But that does not mean that we surrender now or promote the idea the team has lost hope. Everyone must rally around the team and technical staff.”
FA renews confidence in head coach…http://t.co/iv6lt60T9L
— uaefa (@uaefa_ae) October 12, 2015
The UAE look set for an uphill battle to finish as one of the four best runners-up across the eight groups. They currently sit bottom of the list, in a ranking which discounts all results against fifth-placed teams because of Indonesia’s ban from Group F.
Ali’s men have seven points at the half-way stage in the second round. They next face a competitive double header at home to Timor-Leste on November 12 and in Malaysia on November 17.