UAE coach Mahdi Ali was happy to ‘win ugly’ after seeing his side advance to the semi-finals of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup thanks to a 5-4 penalty win over Japan in Sydney on Friday.
Noting that pretty football doesn’t always guarantee you a result, Ali lauded the heart and determination that saw his team over the line in an intense battle against the reigning champions of Asia.
“You don’t always have to place nice football to win the game, sometimes you have to play with your heart and with your spirit to win the game,” said Ali after seeing his side relinquish a 1-goal lead which they held from the 7th to the 81st minute, before Japan forced extra-time and penalties.
“Football sometimes is not fair. It was not fair for us in the Iran game and today I think we deserved to go on to the semi-final.”
Up next is another tough test for the UAE against hosts Australia at what will likely be a raucous sold out Newcastle Stadium, but their coach thinks they can go one step further and make it all the way to the Asian Cup final for the first time since 1996, when they fell to Saudi Arabia on home soil.
“Beating Japan will give the players more confidence and motivation for the next game,” added the Whites’ boss.
“Playing against Australia in Australia will be a very tough game. We will try and recover well and prepare the team for the next match.”
Japan coach Javier Aguirre agreed that the UAE defended their lives in denying his team, stating that they were better in every department.
“We had good shots on set plays and good possession of the ball I think we were superior than the opponent, but they played the match of their lives and I want to congratulate them,” said Aguirre.
“I feel proud of the team because they gave everything in the 120 minutes we played better than the opponents in every aspect including the attack,
“We had a lack of care at the start of the game and that’s why we took a goal and we had to fight for goals till the last minute.
“I thought they had a seriously great defensive game, after the goal for 110 minutes they retreated, they played for 110 minutes from the back. I wish them the best.”
Ali’s men now face a nation keen for football success and beaming with pride in their country’s performances so far and must expect a tidal wave of home support even greater than the overwhelming Japanese attack, which they famously denied.