UAE match-winner Omar Abdulrahman believed testing conditions, surprisingly-dogged opposition and the draining effect of a congested season combined to create a tough opening World Cup 2018 qualifying test.
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Abdulrahman, 23, fired in from 25 yards in the 80th minute to secure a narrow 1-0 Group A, second round win against a Timor-Leste side 73 places below the Whites in the FIFA rankings.
Mahdi Ali’s men were expected to breeze past their first opponents, but they struggled to create many chances in Malaysia’s deserted Shah Alam Stadium.
Victory saw them go level on three points with Arabian Gulf rivals Saudi Arabia ahead of their next match against Malaysia on September 3.
The UAE battled to third place at November’s Gulf Cup and January’s Asian Cup, this fixture bringing the curtain down on a gruelling campaign.
Speaking to Abu Dhabi Sports, Abdulrahman admitted the circumstances contrived to provide a sterner-than-expected test.
“Always with the first match, it’s a hard one,” the Al Ain playmaker said “It was hard to win this match as Timor-Leste were organised well in defence.
“We scored and we got the three points, for sure it will motivate us for the next match. We were surprised by their performance as it was the first match against them, and as you all could see the pitch was really bad and it was very humid. But with all these circumstances, we got the three points which is the most important thing.
“And of course, because it’s the end of the season we could not put in a great performance as we just finished a long season. But now, we will enjoy our vacation for me and my colleagues.”
Coach Mahdi Ali admitted his players were tired after such long and drawn out season both domestically and internationally, which took in the Gulf Cup of Nations and Asian Cup in Australia.
Mahdi said: “I have some players who haven’t played a match in a month, like Ali Mabkhout and Khamis Esmail, and it’s very difficult to have players who haven’t played every week in form.
“For example, Omar Abdulrahman did the most running as he hasn’t played more than 13 matches in the league. That’s evidence that I have a lot of players who played too many matches in the last two seasons and they were really tired.
“We tried to reduce the training sessions to let players back to their best form, but the most important thing that we win today and we have chance to think about the coming matches.”