UAE's mission far from complete with Asian Cup glory in sight

Martyn Thomas 14:21 24/01/2015
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  • On a roll: UAE.

    Even watching from thousands of miles away it was clear just how much Ismail Ahmed’s winning penalty meant to his team-mates, and indeed the UAE.

    Within seconds of the centre-back’s fiercely struck spot kick – that handed Mahdi Ali’s men a place in the Asian Cup semi-finals at the expense of Japan – the squad had descended on their travelling support to serenade them with a burst of the national anthem.

    In the stands Adnan Al Talyani, who suffered penalty heartbreak in the final 19 years ago, was barely able to choke back his tears.

    But while knocking out the Asian heavyweights is an amazing feat in itself, Al Talyani, Mahdi and the rest of the UAE squad will know the hard work starts here.

    Yes, the Whites have achieved their pre-tournament goal, but this is no mission accomplished. Not when there is history to be made.

    Standing between the UAE and a place in the final on January 31 are hosts Australia, who bar a narrow defeat to South Korea, have been in impressive form.

    Ten goals have been scored by the Socceroos on their way to the semi-finals, and they will pose a very different threat to their opponents than Japan did in Sydney.

    Tim Cahill remains their talisman, and demonstrated as much in their quarter-final win over China with a typical brace. His first goal, an instinctive overhead kick, being followed by what has become the 35-year-old’s bread-and-butter, a well-placed header.

    It is the latter threat that the hosts will target when they take on the UAE, looking not only to create chances for the New York Red Bulls man, but also bring the likes of Matthew Leckie and Robbie Kruse into play around him.

    Providing the service for the former Everton attacker should be Mark Bresciano, a player Habib Fardan for one knows well from his time at Al Nasr.

    This direct approach is almost the complete opposite of what Mohanad Salem and Co faced against Japan, who for all their technical ability are happy to play in front of teams.

    That approach played into the hands of the UAE at times and Salem, and whoever partners him in defence on Tuesday, will need to be resolute in the air against the Socceroos.

    Yet, Mahdi’s men will not fear the hosts, and nor should they.

    Omar Abdulrahman, bar his cheeky ‘Panenka’ penalty, gave one of his more anonymous performances at the ANZ Stadium. But if he can gain more of a foothold in Tuesday’s game then Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil should get the service they need to prosper.

    Mabkhout only needed one chance to silence Japan. Another one might just put the UAE on their way to achieving mission impossible.