Leading FIFA official Jurg Nepfer has praised the long-term vision and patience which has produced the UAE’s current ‘golden generation’.
Under the aegis of coach Mahdi Ali, the majority of the present squad have risen up from the youth ranks to play at the London 2012 Olympics, lift the 2013 Gulf Cup, finish third in last year’s Asian Cup and reach the third and final round of qualifying for World Cup 2018.
Speaking in Dubai during a FIFA Course for MA Technical Directors on Sunday, Nepfer – the world governing body’s head of education and technical development – insisted this success was no accident.
“The UAE’s current success is the result of a long development process,” he said. “Now, they can pick the fruits of this work. But it is important to recognise that development is a long-term process.
“This is often the problem with member associations. They want immediate success. The UAE Football Association made the right choices. The whole technical set-up is in place, which is the result of a few years’ work.”
Nepfer is heading a group of instructors on a five-day course for technical directors from across the Middle East.
“Technical directors are key people,” he added. “What we are trying to do is to listen to them, hear what challenges they face and how we can help them.”
Jubilant Al Wahda coach Javier Aguirre has urged his players to use their Arabian Gulf Cup-success as a platform to Asian football.
Brazilian defensive midfielder Denilson’s first-minute strike saw the 10-man Abu Dhabi-side edge Al Shabab, during a final in which Chile playmaker Jorge Valdivia was controversially dismissed.
Aguirre, 57, was tasked with delivering a return to the AFC Champions League upon his summer arrival. He was confident of securing this with a top-three finish in the Arabian Gulf League ahead of next weekend’s resumption.
He said: “When you play in a final, you want to win some way or the other. The players rose to that occasion.
“I want to congratulate them. The next target is to finish third in the league and earn a passage to the AFC Champions League.”
Valdivia saw red on 43 minutes after he was adjudged to have kicked compatriot Carlos Villanueva. Replays of the incident failed to show evidence of such an assault.
“I haven’t spoken about the refereeing to the media in all my forty years in the game and I wouldn’t want to do it now,” Aguirre diplomatically stated.
For Shabab, a disappointing display mirrored a poor campaign.
“It was the second half that let us down, because we couldn’t create many chances in that period when playing against 10 men,” said boss Caio Junior.
A goal 16 seconds into Friday night’s Arabian Gulf Cup-final proved enough for 10-man Al Wahda to lift the trophy for the first time, at toothless Al Shabab’s expense.
A contrast in emotions bookended a defining first half for Javier Aguirre’s champions.
They went ahead from kick-off through on-rushing Denilson’s second goal in 26 appearances, before erroneous-officiating saw Chile superstar Jorge Valdivia dismissed just before the break for a supposed kick only the additional referee and protesting opposition players witnessed.
Under persistent rain at Al Nasr’s Al Maktoum Stadium, a redoubtable edge of defiance then helped them easily bat away a piecemeal challenge from the Hawks and claim the season’s opening piece of major silverware.
A sense of desolation crept over the vanquished, for whom a last chance to salvage a miserable 2015/16 has gone. Last term’s third-placed Arabian Gulf League-finish and GCC Club Cup-success seems an age away for Caio Junior’s struggling side.
They singularly failed to make the most of Al Ahli’s long-disputed disqualification from the decider to their benefit by the UAE Football Association, with a damp display to match the weather.
Thank u for coming today habib..??❤️ yeah we are champions , enjoy shabab pic.twitter.com/dI2ufnEbow— Jorge valdivia (@el_mago_oficial) April 1, 2016
Moments after funnels of smoke and ticker tape greeted the entrance of the players, the Dubai-outfit went behind.
A devilishly-weighted ball from South American magician Valdivia rolled past hapless centre-back Mohammed Marzooq. Former Arsenal midfielder Denilson gratefully latched onto it inside the box, calmly slotting home via goalkeeper Salem Abdulla’s outstretched torso to notch a cup-winning goal during his first season in maroon.
Unimpressive January signing Juninho Potiguar’s scuffed effort in response was the sole highlight before Valdivia and the officials came to the fore.
Both he and countryman Carlos Villanueva dived in on a loose ball, the momentum throwing Valdivia up into the air. His landing was awkward, but not malicious.
Yet wild protestations from the Hawks, desperately searching for parity, led referee Salem Al Naqbi to confer with his assistant behind the goal. An adjudged kick to the head led to a bewildering dismissal.
‘El Mago’s’ reputation as a volatile figure is well established. A ban for an obscene gesture was incurred on debut for Wahda, this game was his return after a sending off against Al Ahli for a forearm to Khamis Esmail’s head and he is currently serving an international suspension.
But his second red card in consecutive club games could not be justified, even on repeated viewing. Such calls could chase a phenomenally-talented player out of the country.
A difficult second half for Wahda seemed inevitable on 51 minutes as Moldova forward Henrique Luvannor’s header forced a superb save from the Adel Al Hosani.
Yet, Shabab were unable to lay siege to their depleted opponents’ goal. The Clarets carried much-greater threat on the counter-attack through striker Sebastian Tagliabue.
A pitch invasion from the overjoyed Wahda bench and booming chants of “Valdivia” greeted the final whistle. There could be no disputing the better side had won.