Al Hilal playmaker Omar Abdulrahman stepped up for a depleted UAE and netted the sensational equaliser in Thursday evening’s promising 1-1 draw with Honduras.
January 2019’s Asian Cup hosts walked out at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys without prolific Al Jazira striker Ali Mabkhout and Shabab Al Ahli forward Dubai Club’s Ahmed Khalil – both withdrawn late on Wednesday because of minor injury concerns. A sense that the duo’s absences would contribute to another confidence-sapping scoreline grew in just the 15th minute when Houston Dynamo winger Romell Quioto put the Central Americans ahead from close range.
But this international break’s planned improvement in opposition – Honduras are ranked 62nd by FIFA, 15 places higher than the UAE – did not cause a fifth defeat in seven matches. The merits of a new 4-3-3 formation were on show as the Whites confidently pinged the ball about and Al Wahda veteran Ismail Matar, back as skipper after a year-long absence, eventually played in Abdulrahman to authoritatively curl into the bottom corner past the half-hour mark.
Mabkhout and Khalil are both expected to return when their Barcelona training camp – the third of five before next year’s continental tournament on home soil – wraps up with Tuesday’s friendly against Venezuela.
Another strong result will further ease pressure on coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
Last month in Catalonia, the UAE beat minnows Laos 3-0 – for a first triumph since January – and were downed 2-0 by an undercooked Trinidad and Tobago. August’s spell in Austria culminated with a harrowing goalless stalemate with Andorra.
Star duo Yohan Cabaye and Alvaro Negredo were among the goals as Al Nasr continued to excel in the Arabian Gulf Cup, inflicting a comfortable 3-0 win on red-hot Sharjah.
The hotly tipped Blue Wave had lost their opening four Arabian Gulf League fixtures, prior to October 4’s 1-0 triumph against lowly Dibba Al Fujairah.
In contrast, they’ve now emerged victorious from all three Group B matches in the Cup. Ex-France, Newcastle, Paris Saint-Germain and Crystal Palace midfielder Cabaye produced a staggering half volley just before half-time to put them ahead.
Forward Mohamed Al Akbari then tapped in on 54 minutes for his opening goal since a summer switch from Al Wahda. The rout was completed when former Spain, Real Madrid, Manchester City striker Negredo’s drilled strike made it three goals in four matches for him in all competitions since arriving from Besiktas.
In the same section, forwards Caio and Jamal Maroof struck in the second half for depleted Al Ain to secure a 2-0 win at Al Jazira.
The former rolled into an open net, and latter rattled home from close range in injury time. This was the perfect retort to last month’s loss to Nasr.
In Group B, Moroccan midfielder Yahya Jabran’s early penalty secured a valuable 1-0 triumph against Ittihad Kalba and moved Dibba Al Fujairah off the bottom.
The UAE’s troubled preparations for January’s Asian Cup are set to ratchet up on Thursday (20:00 UAE) when they meet Honduras in Barcelona for the first of two friendlies this international break.
Alberto Zaccheroni’s tournament hosts snapped a five-match winless run last time out when they thrashed minnows Laos 3-0 on September 11. A squad will now compete against far-superior opposition at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys that has been refreshed by the presence – from the start – of electric Al Jazira playmaker Khalfan Mubarak, youngsters such as defender Khalifa Al Hammadi and an Omar Abdulrahman getting up to speed after his protracted switch to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal.
Hassan Suhail, a Whites great and current member of the UAE Football Association’s technical committee, is encouraged by what he’s witnessed.
He said: “The two friendly matches against Honduras and Venezuela (Tuesday) are beneficial to the team.
“The competition will be fierce, as each players wants to fight for his place in the final squad for the Asian Cup.”
Honduras are ranked 62nd by FIFA, 18 places above the UAE.