It’s finally official. The UAE have not made World Cup 2018.
An outcome which supporters grew increasingly used to during a fitful quest to gain a second-ever qualification became reality on Tuesday, Iraq inflicting a 1-0 defeat on a depleted side at Amman International Stadium.
The Whites had headed to Jordan as the third-and-final round wound to a close in the knowledge advancement was a long shot, at best. Mission improbable became mission impossible the moment hulking striker Ayman Hussein charged unopposed in the first half to head home what would be the only goal.
Second best throughout to a side long eliminated from Group B, this was the sorry end for nearly a decade’s worth of startling progress for the ‘Golden Generation’. Last week’s rousing victory against Saudi Arabia can now only be remembered as a false dawn.
With Edgardo Bauza’s troops missing so many of their glittering stars – chiefly 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman and 2015 Asian Cup leading marksman Ali Mabkhout – they never stood a chance of producing the heavy victory which would have pressurised the third-placed Saudis in the day’s late game against qualified Japan.
The Road to Russia had appeared the natural culmination of consistent success. From winning the 2008 AFC U-19 Championship, to performing at the London 2012 Olympics, winning the 2013 Gulf Cup and claiming a startling third Down Under two years ago.
But this development had swiftly ground to a halt through the long process to make next summer’s tournament. Paternal coach Mahdi Ali lasted until March despite handing in his resignation at the end of last year, the damage done long before Bauza’s succession in May.
The 2019 Asian Cup on home soil provides some recompense. However, it is not nearly enough when genuine promise fails to reach historic fruition.