UAE icon Ismail Matar insists winning is more important than playing well after the Whites reached the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup on home soil.
Pretty football has not been a trait of the UAE’s style of play in the Alberto Zaccheroni era – a far cry from the exhilarating football the nation played on their way to third place at the tournament four years ago in Australia.
Ali Mabkhout finished as the Asian Cup’s top scorer in 2015 as the Whites upset record four-time champions Japan to finish third.
But the hosts have flattered to deceive under the dour tactics of the Italian veteran, stumbling into the last eight with draws in the group stage against Thailand and Bahrain, while they needed extra-time to beat Asian Cup debutants Kyrgyzstan 3-2 on Monday.
But Al Wahda warhorse Matar – who is the UAE’s second most capped player behind Adnan Al Talyani following 129 appearances – would rather his team still be in the tournament playing poorly than losing playing well.
“Today was like this is one game, you want to play well or you want to win. We want to win,” said the 35-year-old forward after Ahmed Khalil’s extra-time penalty earned the Whites victory.
“We don’t want to play well today. Playing well didn’t help Saudi Arabia (the Green Falcons exited on Monday after a 1-0 defeat to Japan). They played a really good game and at the end of the day, Japan won.
“Sometimes in this kind of game you look always for winning. You don’t look for a great game. The big lesson for us was Japan against Saudi Arabia. Japan are the better team, but they respect Saudi Arabia, they had the possession more, we saw them all in the defence.
“When you want to win a title you have to do whatever makes you win.
“Always when you try to protect the result there is pressure. We are the team that don’t give a good impression the last three games. People are expecting more form us, and we don’t really play that well.”
Matar, who made his senior Whites debut 16 years ago after starring for the under-20s at the 2003 FIFA U-20 World Cup – where he was named Player of the Tournament – added that facing a smaller, unknown nation in the round of 16 also prevented the UAE from playing with flair.
“This is football. When you play a 50-50 game, like we see today between Japan and Saudi Arabia, you can show your quality, you can show your personality more, because it’s a 50-50 game,” said the veteran, who has spent his whole club career with the Clarets, save for a loan period at Qatar’s Al Sadd in 2009.
“When you have the pressure on you and you have to go an attack and score and have to win, it’s always pressure. Sometimes you don’t know how to play.
“And it depends on the other team, who can make it tough for you. And the Kyrgyzstan team are really, really good. They have quality. It was not an easy task. But like I told you, a 50-50 game I think we will be better.”
Matar impressed in the win, his first start of the tournament after two previous appearances off the bench against Thailand and India. Zaccheroni’s side led 1-0 and 2-1 through Khamis Esmail and Mabkhout goals before Mirlan Murzaev and Tursunali Rustamov forced extra-time.
And even though his lack of game time left him fearful, Matar said he drew on his vast experience.
He added: “To be honest I was scared for a long, long time, like one month and something, I’m not playing and the last two games I played only 10 minutes, 10 minutes and now I have to start. But when you’ve got experience you have to use it.”
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