A moment of magic from Ismail Al Hammadi was not enough to maintain the UAE’s perfect Asian Cup qualifying record as a late Igor Sergeev header earned a 1-1 draw in Tashkent.
Mahdi Ali had urged his side to finish their Group E campaign with a win but it was not until substitute Al Hammadi produced a goal of the highest order with 23 minutes left.
The UAE had struggled to impose themselves prior to the Al Ahli winger’s intervention but afterwards they were a team reborn and could have stretched their led had Ahmed Khalil not struck the upright.
But with less than 10 minutes remaining they were pegged back as Sergeev earned his side a well deserved draw.
The hosts were reduced to 10 men just before the end as defender Islom Tuhtahujaev received two bookings in quick succession.
The result means the UAE finish their Group E campaign unbeaten, and with five wins from six will be one of the teams to miss at the draw for the finals in Sydney on March 26.
Mahdi will head to Australia buoyed by the reaction of Al Hammadi, one of his senior players, and a promising cameo from Mohamed Abdulrahman but his experiment with Ahmed Khamis failed as the Sharjah man was booked just 45 minutes into his international debut.
Uzbek coach Mirjalol Qosimov had bemoaned the state of the Bunyodkor Stadium pitch but it was his side that settled on the bobbly surface quickest.
Sanjar Tursunov had an early chance to open the scoring before his cut-back was cut-out by Ismail Ahmed.
Sergeev then fizzed a shot from the edge of the box just past keeper Ali Khaseif’s left-hand post as the Uzbek pressure showed no sign of relenting.
Server Djeparov should have done better in the 30th minute as he headed Odil Ahmedov’s cross over from eight yards, having given his marker the slip.
The Uzbekistan captain then sent over a wicked delivery from a free-kick on the right that Sergeev could only head straight at Khaseif.
If the game turned with the introduction of Al Hammadi at the break then it wasn’t immediately obvious as the hosts continued to press in the opening stages of the half.
Indeed Ahmed survived a second Uzbek penalty appeal as the ball ricocheted behind for a corner off his shoulder. But Al Hammadi’s arrival did ensure the UAE posed their opponents a threat on the break, and the winger gave the Uzbek defence a warning as he almost set Ali Mabkhout free just after the hour.
The visitors were looking increasingly dangerous and when the goal eventually came it was well worth the wait.
Al Hammadi was in the right place at the right time to collect Mabkhout’s deflected shot on the edge of the area but everything that followed owed itself to the Al Ahli man’s skill.
The winger turned in one movement to expertly roll Vitaliy Denisov before keeping his cool to curl the ball past the Uzbek keeper.
It may have been unexpected but the goal gave the UAE a lift and within minutes Ahmed Khalil had been denied only by a desperate block from Tuhtahujaev.
With just 10 minutes to go and with Uzbekistan’s attacks becoming more and more frequent, the Al Ahli striker had the chance to double his side’s lead only to see his shot come back off the post.
Mabkhout saw his follow-up excellently saved before he was rightly pulled up by the referee for diving.
Khalil would then have a 20-yard free-kick tipped onto the bar, and the UAE would be made to pay for their profligacy as Sergeev met Nurmatov’s cross with an excellent header to draw the hosts level.
Uzbekistan were reduced to 10 men before the end as Tuhtahujaev was shown a second yellow card, for a foul on substitute Salem Saleh.
Al Fuad Sports Club registered their third consecutive win after they hit eight past Mubadala in Group 2 of the Abu Dhabi Football League (ADFL) at Zayed Sports City.
Strikers Fahad Al Harthi, Mohammed Habush and Sanad Amer all found the net twice as Al Fuad Sports Club closed the gap on leaders Zayed Sports City to one point.
Elsewhere, Zayed Sports City and Victory registered wins, while Falcons Academy were held to a draw, and they look destined to advance to the play-off stage and be in contention to win the Dh80,000 prize money on offer.
Four early goals from Bogdan Sendroiu wasn’t enough to grab all three points for Falcons Academy, as Al Ittihad struck back with a hattrick from Abdul Rahman Al Ghafri and goals from Mohammed AlKatheri and Saled Mohammad in a 5-5 thriller.
Elsewhere, Victory edged past ADIB 4-3, while Shamar beat Abu Dhabi Graduates 3-2 to keep their play-off dreams alive.
In Group 1, Emirates ID went level on points with leaders Diplomatic and Governmental after defeating D.Feras 4-3, who couldn’t hold on to their two-goal advantage.
Third-placed USF shared the points in a 1-1 draw against Sultan Arif Khoury, who are sitting in fourth position, while Kobetas drew 2-2 with MoneyMakers.
Nick Levett, National Development Manager for Youth Football at the English Football Association (FA), was left impressed by the standard of players and coaches he saw during a recent trip to Dubai.
Aspiring youth coaches and youngsters from the M&S Sports youth programmes were given an insight into the recent shift in philosophy at the FA as Levett took part in the UAE Coaches Forum at the end of last month.
The three-day course catered to a wide spectrum of coaches, with those newly-qualified attending alongside UEFA A licence holders, and was designed to encourage a child-centred approach to learning.
Youngsters from the M&S academy were at the Raffles World Academy on all three days in order togive the attendees the chance to see what they were learning in practice.
“Some of the children were doing some great stuff,” Levett told Sport360°. “They were fantastic. The knowledge of the coaches was good and I said to them at the start, ‘it will challenge some of what you think, it will confirm some things you already do and you might collect a few ideas’.
“A lot of them went away nodding saying ‘I know this is what I do but now this adds support and credence to what I do’. So we can kind of back it up with a theoretical underpinning.”
Those coaches who attended the forum were taught theories outlined in the FA’s Future Game, a guide for youth development released in 2010. Levett admitted that English coaching philosophies had changed since the release of the document, which promotes a possessionbased approach to the game.
“It’s very, very different from five years ago,” he said of the FA’s approach to youth development. “The Future Game outlines a coaching and playing philosophy as well as an approach to teaching and learning. So it’s very much playing through the thirds and building possession football with an understanding of when to counter attack, but through learning through games.
“And that’s what we’ve tried to do, that’s imbedded into our coaching qualifications back home so let’s bring a little bit of that philosophy out [to the UAE] as well.”
With Premier League squads dominated by foreign talent, the FA has come under fire for not producing enough quality players for some time now.
There are signs that is changing, though, with the likes of Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw breaking into Roy Hodgson’s England squad.
And Levett, who also works in Fulham’s academy, thinks the future is bright.
“If you look at the England youth teams now there are some exceptional young players coming through,” he added. “There’s a lad at Fulham called Pat Roberts who is in the England U-18s now and who is a No10 type player.
“The Belgians are being held up as one of the icons of youth development at the moment, our under- 18s beat them 4-0 last month. But it’s a long term process.
“Our challenge as a country is to ensure that the English players that come through the professional game system are the best that they can be because they’re not competing against somebody from an hour down the road, they are competing at the top.”