Forget Omar Abdulrahman, Ismail Ahmed is porous UAE's main missing man after Gulf Cup elimination

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UAE football has revolved, apparently, around Omar Abdulrahman for the past decade.

The shaggy haired playmaker precipitous rise, plus subsequent garnering of significant global media attention, and recent fall had mirrored the fortunes of the national side. From shimmering star of the ‘Golden Generation’ that emerged at the London 2012 Olympics and roared to third place three years later at the Asian Cup, until serious injury saw him miss the fortunate struggle to the semi-finals at last January’s continental event on home soil and become a passenger in the fitful start to World Cup 2022 qualifying.

This blanket assessment, however, has proven too acute under Bert van Marwijk’s porous – but largely free-scoring – tenure.

Monday’s doleful 4-2 defeat versus hosts Qatar inflicted group-stage elimination at the Gulf Cup for the previous edition’s beaten finalists. It also highlighted the damaging absence of a statuesque ex-Al Ain team-mate of Amoory’s.

Merciless Al Jazira striker Ali Mabkhout’s brace against the ascendant Asian Cup holders meant he had bagged 11 of 13 competitive goals struck since the revered Dutchman’s March hiring. In theory, at least, fading 2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil could carry some of the burden.

Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club defender Mohammed Marzooq’s characteristically rash blocked clearance for 2019 AFC Player of the Year Akram Afif’s opener and chasing of shadows for captain Hassan Al Haydos’ third, however, helped make it 10 goals conceded in the new regime’s seven competitive fixtures. This consequential setback also reinforced the absence of a missing legend.

Ismail Ahmed was a colossus at the back for his adopted Whites from 2012’s debut, until the ravages of times after January’s Asian adventure finally put paid to the now 36-year-old’s outstanding international career .

The 2014 AFC Player of the Year runner-up’s skill set remains unmatched. Forceful in the tackle, diligent at covering, an underrated long passer and an ability to repel any aerial bombardment.

Jazira’s coltish Khalifa Al Hammadi, 21, is learning on the job. Double culpability in last week’s 2-0 loss to Iraq in Doha and a dismissal in last month’s 1-0 World Cup 2022 qualifying loss at Vietnam point to a work in progress, no matter the obvious promise.

More-experienced stand-ins Marzooq, of Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, and Al Wahda’s Hamdan Al Kamali will never be up to the gargantuan demands of following their lionised former colleague.

Ahmed’s innate ability to lead, by example or encouragement, dragged the more-limited Mohanad Salem to new heights of performance for both Al Ain and the UAE. Their defiance in 2014’s quarter-final elimination of Asian Cup holders Japan was legendary, so too Ahmed’s ability to repeat the trick four years later alongside Fares Juma when champions Australia fell at the same stage.

In an ideal world, he would also be nurturing the prodigious Al Hammadi. A viable solution must be found next year to secure essential progression to the third round of the 2022 process.

This should not, and of course will not, involve a backwards regression to the reductive tactics deployed by moribund forerunner Alberto Zaccheroni. It does, though, require a reappraisal of Van Marwijk’s available options.

Is it fair to dismiss inspirational Sharjah skipper Shaheen Abdulrahman as too agricultural? How swiftly can imposing obvious successor Khalifa Mubarak, of Al Nasr, be brought back into the fold?

The UAE are definitely not a lost cause without Amoory – and should not be one without Ahmed. They are being made, however, to resemble one.

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