UAE veteran Ismail Ahmed has warned his team-mate they must “seize every opportunity” to make their dream of World Cup-qualification come true.
The 33-year-old performed doggedly yet again for his country on Tuesday but could do nothing as Tim Cahill predatorarily tapped home the only goal during Australia’s narrow triumph at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. This saw the Whites fail to build on an incredible 2-1 win in Japan last week as the third-and-final qualifying round for Russia 2018 began in memorable fashion.
A year-long battle to gain automatic entry through a top-two finish in Group B or finish third and scrap to contest the inter-confeferation play-off is now under way. For Ahmed, every match now must be maximised to see the nation make a second-ever appearance in the sport’s grandest tournament.
He said: “Our team had more than two opportunities to score (against Australia). In such games, if we don’t seize every opportunity, redemption will be difficult and we will naturally be at a disadvantage.
“Despite all that, the Australian national team did not pose a real threat to our goal except a few times where they scored once.
“The weather did not make things easy given the high levels of humidity, but that is no excuse. We should have played in full force to win the game.
“We are capable of coming back in full force to the competition because redemption is still possible in the remaining eight games.”
An enduring image from the game was match-winner Cahill comforting a distraught Omar Abdulrahman upon the final whistle. The 36-year-old – who scored his 48th international goal in 92 appearances – revealed he told the Whites stars they still had everything to play for.
He said: “The UAE played really well, we’ve a lot of respect for them, a great footballing team.
“I said to the players, ‘put your head up, try as finish as high as you can in the group and take what you did against Japan and today and improve’, like they have every year.”
A showdown between the UAE and neighbours Saudi Arabia for third spot now seems inevitable. Bert van Marwijk’s men have so far required late penalties to win against also-rans Thailand and Iraq, meaning they go into next month’s resumption with a three-point advantage.
With the UAE travelling to the Kingdom on October 11, coach Mahdi Ali was refusing to panic about the deficit.
He said: “It is too early for this type of thinking. We didn’t get the result we needed today, but it is still very early.”
He added: “I thank the fans for their support today.
“It was a great support from them and they kept cheering until the end. I thank them and I apologise for the result.
“I wish that the team will give better and we will celebrate our qualification to the World Cup in this stadium during the future.”
Prior to the aforementioned match, the UAE will host Thailand in Abu Dhabi on October 6.
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