UAE's AFC U-23 Championship hopes left in tatters as Sri Lanka's withdrawal means Nepal win could be wiped out

Matt Jones - Editor 23:19 19/07/2017
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Defeat in their final qualifier plus Sri Lanka’s withdrawal leaves the UAE in limbo as to whether they can reach next year’s AFC U-23 Championships.

The 2-0 loss saw Uzbekistan win Group D and book their ticket for next January’s tournament. But the UAE, who thrashed Nepal 5-0 in their opening game, could now see that result expunged as fears gather that the Lankan Lions pulling out could mean results against teams finishing bottom of each of the 10 groups will be chalked off.

That would leave the UAE, now left chasing one of five best runner-up spots, facing disaster with a -1 goal difference following last night’s loss.

In all likelihood two wins from three games should have been good enough to yield a place in China for Hassan Al Abdoli’s Whites, but they ceded their advantage at the top of Group B to Uzbekistan, who scored two late goals to win the group.

And the controversy surrounding Sri Lanka’s withdrawal heaps more misery on for the Whites.

After a lackluster first half, towering centre-back Islomjon Kobilov nodded Ravshan Khaydarov’s in front with 23 minutes remaining. And with the Whites visibly wilting in the Al Ain heat, Uzbek maverick Javokhir Sidikov rifled in an unstoppable second in added time to seal victory.

The UAE will now have to wait to find out their fate, with Group D the only one of 10 to have completed their quota of games. All other groups played their openers last night with the 16 teams to appear at the Championships decided on the final day on Sunday.

It was an opportunity missed for the hosts, who fell to defeat after two straight wins against Nepal and Lebanon.

Hosting a tournament in mid-July amid 40+ degree UAE heat hadn’t seemed the smartest idea and despite the game kicking off at 18:25, the humidity was not condusive to flowing football as both sides struggled for rhythm in a tepid opening 45 minutes.

The first attempt of any note didn’t arrive until the 43rd minute when Uzbekistan captain Zabikhillo Urinboev’s goal-bound header from Akramjon Komilov’s speculative cross was plucked out of the air by Al Ain goalkeeper and UAE skipper Mohammed Busanda.

Al Jazira forward Ahmed Al Attas then headed over before Bani Yas’ Suhail Al Noubi met a knockdown and rocketed a shot goalwards, which was impressively beaten away for a corner by Ergashev Botirali.

The second period was infinitely more memorable and Whites’ talisman Mohamed Al Akbari, of Al Wahda, again stung the palms of Botirali just prior to the hour after fine skill to beat his marker.

The game was becoming more open and Urinboev got on the end of Kobilov’s lofted ball but Busanda stood up brilliantly to block his shot for a corner.

It was only a brief reprieve though as, from the resulting corner, Busanda came out to gather but got caught in traffic and the grateful Kobilov headed into an open goal.

The goal visibly lifted the visitors who could sniff the blood of the men in red, and it should have been 2-0 minutes later when the UAE were caught in possession at the back. Midfielder Odiljon Xamrobekov ghosted onto a througball that cut the UAE open and rounded Busanda, but he lost his balance and lifted his effort onto the top of the net as the Whites survived.

UAE substitutes Shaheen Surour and Ali Eid combined, the latter heading the former’s whipped free-kick narrowly over and a clever Al Attas ball then found young Boss forward Eid but he rushed his effort when he had space and Botirali gathered.

With time running out, Sidikov, the best player on the pitch, settled matters when he raced into the box to meet Azizjon Ganiev’s astute cut-back to thump an unstoppable finish into the roof of Busanda’s net.

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