There will have been both cause for concern and optimism for new UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni as he oversaw a narrow 1-0 defeat to Haiti on his bow as national team boss.
There was a lethargy in the home side’s play in the first 45 minutes in Al Ain, while the Whites struggled to adapt initially to Zaccheroni’s use of a new 4-3-3 system.
Hope sprang eternal in the Garden City, however, that the debacle of the Edgardo Bauza reign and another World Cup disappointment can now start to be eradicated – especially following a lively and spirited second half in which the Whites will have felt desperately unlucky not to have coloured the scoresheet.
But for the athleticism of Haiti’s Oldham Athletic goalkeeper Johny Placide and the woodwork, former AC Milan and Japan coach Zaccheroni would have been celebrating a morale-boosting victory.
A largely tame opening at a virtually deserted Khaifa bin Zayed Stadium was ended when the visitors took the lead midway through the half. Hulking Coventry City striker Duckens Nazon side-footed Kevin-Pierre Lafrance’s deflected cross against Khalid Essa’s left post and the unfortunate Mahmoud Khamis could only watch in horror as the ball struck his knee and rebounded into the net.
Khamis and Omar Abdulrahman fired at Placide and narrowly over as the hosts tried to respond.
As is the norm with friendlies at any level these days, a flurry of changes were made in the second half. But after a turgid opening 45 from the hosts, four changes at the break gave them an injection of energy. Al Ain centre-back Ismail Ahmed, one of them, struck the crossbar with a towering header. Shabab Al Ahli Dubai anchorman Khamis Esmail then rattled the bar, still shaking from Ahmed’s header, minutes later when he rocketed a shot goalwards from range.
When Placide got down excellently to tip Omar Abdulrahman’s free-kick around his post, the UAE could have been 3-1 up with 10 minutes of the second period gone.
Nazon could and should have doubled Haiti’s lead in between but he dallied and Mohamed Fawzi did brilliantly to block his shot following a break.
Placide prevented the hosts twice more in quick succession with a brilliant double save just after the hour. Al Wahda youngster Mohamed Al Akbari sliced through the Haiti defence but the stopper smothered his fierce strike and was then up rapidly to turn away Abdulrahman’s follow-up.
Ali Khaseif turned Jimmy-Shammar Sanon’s effort behind at the other end before Khamis came inches from atoning for his own goal when he rifled a shot just wide from outside the box.
Ahmed again rose beautifully at the back post with seconds remaining, Haiti hearts were in mouths as his downward header bounced down and over the bar.
Zaccheroni pleaded for patience to “build up” his UAE team after they showed spirit and determination in defeat last night. Zaccheroni was impressed with the desire to do improve that his players displayed.
“I was upset about the first 25 minutes and I will analyse this and their mistakes, I will not leave them alone,” said the 64-year-old Italian.
“But after that I witnessed the team performing as a collective from the goalkeeper to the strikers. This is my philosophy and I have told the players this, we have to play a collective game.
“I can say the performance for 70 minutes, I admired it. Particularly after only a few training sessions with the players. At the end of the day we had lots of chances, but were unfortunate.
“I don’t like to talk about bad and good luck but we should have scored a goal but we have to be patient. We played against a really fit team and their rank is in front of us. Honestly my team was not worse than the opponent.”
Marc Collat’s Haiti are ranked 56th in FIFA’s world rankings, 16 places above the Whites in 72nd, and Zaccheroni insists his side’s fortunes will not improve overnight.
“They have to play the Uzbekistan match (on Tuesday) from the 25th minute today,” he added.
“There will be a new plan and new tactics. We need time. Of course everybody wants everything right now but results are not available immediately. What is important for me is the concentration and focus of the players and desire to do better.
“I talked to the players and congratulated them for their efforts because this is the first match and they tried their best to implement the plan.
“In certain times they were able to create chances to score and I shook hands with all of them because of their determination.”