Coach Mahdi Ali ended his transformative four-and-a-half-year spell in charge of the UAE yesterday with the nation’s hopes of making World Cup 2018 in ruins, revealing a previous bid to resign last year had been rejected.
Headed set-piece goals from Burton Albion midfielder Jackson Irvine and Ingolstadt winger Mathew Leckie were enough to secure a comfortable 2-0 win for Australia in a Group B qualifier in Sydney.
The damaging result left the Whites four points off third spot and its potential route to the inter-confederation play-offs, in the process forcing their 51-year-old boss to immediately announce his exit during a post-match press conference.
Ali had gained success with the ‘Golden Generation’ – which has produced the last two AFC Players of the Year in Al Ahli forward Ahmed Khalil and Al Ain playmaker Omar Abdulrahman – from the Under-19s through to the London 2012 Olympics, also winning the 2013 Gulf Cup and finishing third at the 2015 Asian Cup. But stale selections and tactics had bedevilled a Road to Russia which has regularly featured rumours about an exit.
He said: “I regret my declaration to resign, but the team now needs to change. I spent five years with the team, made a lot of achievements and now it is the time to leave.
“I tried to give everything within my power and I apologise to the public.
“I submitted my resignation before the Iraq match [a 2-0 win in November], but the UAE Football Association insisted on continuing our mission.
“I am satisfied with what was presented during my time with the team. It is a difficult moment in my life and I wished to leave the team in a better condition.
“The coach is part of the team, but there are many other tools that control the conditions.”
The ex-UAE and Ahli midfielder won 40 of his 65 games in charge since August 2012, drawing 10 and losing 15. Previous talk had appeared in November about Ali being talked out of making an exit.
“I can’t deny that the defeats have been really tough,” veteran forward Ismail Matar told beIN Sports. “We could have done better. These are two painful defeats and we have to bear the consequences.”