It’s not often you get an opportunity to spend 90 minutes watching a world class footballer glide around the park, effortlessly plying their trade – but tonight that’s exactly what 11,394 people inside Brisbane Stadium got to do.
Already a superstar of the Asian Cup in Australia, Omar Abuldrahman proved – if it actually needed proving –against Iran that he is one of the region’s finest players.
They say that big players turn up for big games, and the final Group C match against Asia’s number one ranked nation was, to-date, the UAE’s biggest game Down Under.
And boy, did he turn up.
In warm and humid conditions, and on an uneven pitch and against a quality opposition, Omar showed just why some of the biggest clubs in Europe are sitting up and taking notice of him.
At one stage he mesmerised four Iranian defenders on the edge of the penalty area, dancing around them with the ball seemingly glued to his feet, with only sheer weight of defensive numbers finally halting his run.
Everything of quality the UAE created had the No. 10 with startling hair at its heart.
It must be said at this point that there were no bad performances from the men in red.
From front to back, coach Mahdi Ali’s side were the epitome of the highly-skilled, polished group of players that they are.
Pace, guile and creativity were coupled with effort, industry and determination from each individual who pulled on the UAE shirt.
Ahmed Khalil’s strong and bustling work at the focal point of the Emirati frontline kept the Iran defence on their toes for the duration.
The defensive quartet of Walid Abbas, Mohanad Salem, Mohamed Ahmed and Abdelaziz Sanquor were composed and assured under an aerial bombardment from Iran’s direct style of play.
While Majed Naser made two crucial saves to preserve his side’s chances of finishing top of the group.
However, Omar was a class above not only his teammates, but every player on the park.
How the Asian Football Confederation conspired to bestow the man of the match award to a player who spent just 18 minutes on the park is astounding – regardless of his winning goal.
But you get the feeling that won’t bother Omar too much.
It’s a credit to the Al Ain playmaker that his amazing talents don’t appear to be coupled with the inflated ego usually associated with someone of his ability.
In an era where celebrity, personality and marketability seemingly go hand-in-hand with talent, Omar looks to be the exception to the rule.
Although he would be an incredibly marketable player for any European club that took him on board, if he were to continue to work as hard, put his body on the line to win the ball and create goal scoring opportunities, his ability on the pitch would outweigh his value on a billboard.
There is no doubt his star is shining just a little brighter after another stellar performance, but he wasn’t the only reason the match will be remembered as a spectacle.
Iran’s lack of preparation for the Asian Cup – having only played two games since 2014’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil prior to the tournament – has been well documented.
However, the further Team Melli progress you can guarantee the more fervent its fans become.
Rarely has a crowd of 11,000 at Brisbane Stadium created the kind of noise the Iranian supporters manufactured on Monday night.
The commotion from the Melli fans started right from kick-off and barely stopped all night, regardless of their team’s inferiority for large parts of the game.
And the noise they made after Reza Ghoochannejhad headed home in the first minute of stoppage time rivals many of the celebrations seen at Brisbane Stadium with four times as many fans in the venue.
With such support behind them, Iran may be difficult to stop as the tournament rolls on.
While there was general agreement with Ali’s assessment that sometimes the best team doesn’t win, there was still an element of fairytale in the result.
Yet the best part remains that audiences around the world will have an opportunity to marvel at the precocious talent of a 23-year-old such as Omar on a world stage that is ardently supported in the stands.
Long may it continue.
UAE hearts were broken late on in their final group game against Iran, with a 91st minute winner denying Mahdi Ali's men top spot in Group C.
The United Arab Emirates fell agonisingly short of the result they not only needed but deserved at Brisbane Stadium tonight, conceding a 91st minute goal to lose 1-0 to Iran and finish second in Group C.
The loss continues a horrid run against the Iranians for the UAE, having never defeated them in a competitive fixture, and will likely pit them against Asian powerhouse Japan in the Asian Cup quarter-finals.
Iran substitute Reza Ghoochannejhad’s headed goal was scant reward for Mahdi Ali’s men, who played with the verve, style and fluency which has already won them many admirers in Australia.
Post-match, Ali was critical of the Asian Football Confederation’s selection of a Japanese match official, considering Japan was the likely opponent for one of the two sides in action.
The UAE coach had an animated discussion with match referee Ryuji Sato at half time and, while he stopped short declaring any direct wrong doing by the match official, questioned the appointment.
“We were deeper at the end of the match because of the fouls given by the referee,” Ali said.
“I’m just surprised at how the game was given to a Japanese referee and maybe we play against Japan.
“The first foul committed after half time, in our opinion it was not a foul and he gave a yellow card to a player who will be suspended for the next game.
“I think this question on the referee needs to be transferred to the AFC.”
In regards to the result, Ali was philosophical about his team’s narrow loss and praised his side’s enterprising play.
The UAE boss refused to blame lack of a killer punch in the attacking third as the reason his side fell short of their target of topping their group, instead switching his attention to facing Japan.
“Sometimes you play good and you lose, sometimes you don’t play good and you win,” he said.
“Today we don’t deserve to lose the game, but this is football.
— AFC Asian Cup (@afcasiancup) January 19, 2015
“We lost the game, but we’re still in the competition. We have to think about [Japan], we played good but we need to work hard on our next game.”
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz predictably refused to pass comment on the referee, but praised his side’s ability to make the most of their limited time on the ball throughout the 90 minutes.
“The players played with a lot of concentration, with a fantastic attitude,” Queiroz said.
“I think we gave UAE their passing game, we played our penetration movements better than them – so they had more passes but we had more shots on goal.
“The game was emotional and skillful, both sets of players deserve congratulations and appreciation from both sets of fans.”
The opponents for both teams will be decided in tomorrow’s Group D matches with Japan facing Jordan in Melbourne and Iraq taking on Palestine. The latter are the only side that cannot progress to the quarter-finals.
Iran: Haghighi 6; Pouraliganji 7; Pooladi 6, Hosseini 7, Heydari 6; Nekounam 6, Teymourian 6; Rafiei 6, Amiry 8, Jahanbakhsh 8; Azmoun 8; Subs: Ghafouri 4, Ghoochannejhad 6, Dejagah 5
UAE: Naser 7; Ahmed 8, Abbas 8, Salem 7, Sanquor 7; Esmaeel 8, Amer Abdulrahman 7; Fardan 7, Omar 9, Mabkhout 7; Khalil 8