Injured UAE icon Omar Abdulrahman claims the embattled Asian Cup 2019 hosts can still win the tournament despite a deflating 1-1 draw with Bahrain that raised the curtain on the continental showpiece on Saturday, but immediately dampened hope.
The Whites – who had won just twice in 10 games leading up to their pressurised opening game – required an 88th minute Ahmed Khalil penalty to rescue a draw against opponents ranked 34 places below them in the FIFA world rankings at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
That will only ramp up the scruinty on the national team in their remaining two Group A games against Thailand and India, as well as coach Alberto Zaccheroni, who has a decidedly bleak record in charge of the Whites.
The veteran Italian coach has overseen a meagre five wins in 17 games since taking over from Edgardo Bauza in November 2017, which included a timid Gulf Cup campaign at the beginning of 2018 in which they lost to Oman in the final, yet only scored one goal in five games.
Worse was to follow last October when talented talisman Abdulrahman was ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury after a clash in a league game for club side Al Hilal.
Scans a few days later revealed the worst – that the 2016 AFC Asian Footballer of the Year had torn his anterior cruciate ligament.
Despite the doom and gloom, the 27-year-old – known affectionately as Amoory – was on the sidelines to cheer his team-mates on against Bahrain.
And the Saudi-born schemer, who is technically on loan at the Saudi Pro League giants from Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ain – where he has been since moving to the UAE as a teenager from Saudi in 2006 – is adamant all is not lost.
“The team carries the hopes and dreams of all the people of the UAE and needs the efforts of all,” the 71-times capped Amoory told the UAE Football Association website.
“We must all be keen to support and encourage players. Whatever the outcome, the championship is still long and the team still has a great chance of progressing further in this tournament.”
Amoory made his senior Whites bow in 2011 and came to the attention of the world when he featured at the 2012 Olympic Games in London for the UAE Under-23s – attracting interest from a host of Europe’s elite clubs, including Manchester City where he enjoyed a successful trial.
A storied move to football’s heartland never materialised but Amoory’s protracted transfer to Hilal provokes further debate over his future.
For now, he is back in his adopted homeland, supporting Zaccheroni and Co, and insists his support and encouragement is “the least that can be” provided to the Whites as they look to emulate the exploits of the 1996 UAE side that made it all the way to the Asian Cup final the last time the continental tournament was staged in the Emirates – losing on penalties to Saudi Arabia.
“The Whites led well but did not succeed in achieving the victory that was awaited by fans of UAE football against Bahrain,” said Amoory, pointing out that injury prevented him from performing his national duty on the field, but won’t prevent him from his duty of encouraging and supporting his colleagues from the sidelines.
“Luck did not win in this confrontation, but I wish success to players in both of the next two games against India and Thailand.
“We need to support the Whites to the end, I have confidence in the ability of the team to reach the second round and continue the quest for the title. The public will support the players a lot, and raise their spirits to do their best, to achieve the desired results.”
It may not have been pretty but Marcello Lippi can breathe a sigh of relief, as China got their Asian Cup campaign off to a good start thanks to a come-from-behind victory over Kyrgyzstan.
China, who had won just once in seven games in the build-up to the tournament, fell behind to Akhlidin Israilov’s fine left-footed strike from outside the box f just before half-time.
The Dragons had looked tentative up to that point and thoughts of a final piece of major silverware for 70-year-old Lippi, who is likely to retire after the tournament, seemed even more fanciful.
Pavel Matiash 🇰🇬 has just done a Pickford and became the first ever goalkeeper to score an own goal in the Asian Cup history.pic.twitter.com/Y4KGSroAx0— Artur Petrosyan (@arturpetrosyan) January 7, 2019
However, China got a stroke of luck shortly after the interval through Kyrgyzstan goalkeeper Pavel Matiash, who made an unforgivable blunder by palming what should have been an easy catch from a corner into his own net.
Then, with under 15 minutes to go, Yu Dabao angled in a shot and China held on from there for their fourth straight victory in Asian Cup openers.
Milovan Rajevac has been sacked as head coach of Thailand following the Southeast Asian nation’s 4-1 defeat to India at the Asian Cup on Sunday.
The 65-year-old paid the price after the War Elephants leaked three second-half goals to lose in their opening match in Abu Dhabi.
Thai football chiefs acted swiftly to remove Rajevac early on Monday morning.
“The result is not what is expected of the Thai national team and that our supporters deserve,” Thailand’s FA president Somyot Poompanmoung said.
“Like all Thai football fans across the country, I am also disappointed with the result. But as president of the football association, I cannot stand still with this problem.”
Former assistant coach Sirisak Yodyardthai will assume control of the team when they face Bahrain on Thursday, Thai officials added.