A much-changed and misfiring UAE struck at the death against Lithuania, Abdelaziz Sanqour following in to prevent a limp display against Lithuania turning into defeat.
The Al Ahli right-back was the UAE's brightest spark on a grim night in Austria, gratefully firing high into the goal after Ahmed Khalil’s devilishly swerving free-kick rebounded into his path via 'keeper and post deep into injury-time.
Sanqour’s intervention provided the moment of ignition to Mahdi Ali’s men's preparations for their Gulf Cup title defence, the lush Alpine surrounding of the Sportplatz Matrei Stadium previously failing to inspire a week after their goalless draw in Norway.
The quintuple of returning Al Ain AFC Champions League heroes were meant to strengthen the UAE hand.
Instead, the rusty Mohanad Salem and unusually leaden-footed Ismail Ahmed contrived to lose track of centre forward Deivydas Matulevicius to nod the Eastern Europeans infront with the simplest of headers just before the interval, while Omar Abdulrahman’s self-congratulary display featured plenty of tricks but no end product when it mattered.
The player that lit up the quarter-final legs against Al Ittihad was not present, his slack passes repeatedly finding Lithuanians.
European nations have been picked in recent months to provide sterner opposition ahead of November’s Gulf Cup and January’s Asian Cup assaults.
The programme began three months ago with a predictable loss to Armenia and enlivening victory against Georgia. A draw last night, punctuated by naive defending and wasteful attacking play to a side ranked 38 places below in the FIFA rankings, was not in Ali’s plans.
The manner it was secured, however, evidenced a commendable spirit.
A bobbly pitch with long grass that pinched speed from the passes did not help an off-colour starting forward line-up containing Omar Abdulrahman, Habib Fardan, Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkhout. The latter pair both wasted chances in a dull first half in which the UAE dominated possession.
Al Jazira’s Mabkhout, in particular, was in errant mood in front of goal, an egregiously poor volley rising as high as the mountaineous backdrop after being gratefully played in by a slack header from Lithuania captain Tadas Kijanskas.
The introduction of Al Ahli’s Ismail Al Hammadi and Majed Hassan at the break brought an improvement in desire as driving rain began to lash down. Al Hammadi was soon denied a goal of real quality, an athletic save forced from a volley after meeting a half-cleared corner with purpose on the edge of the penalty box.
Lithuania caused more problems in the air, substitute striker Simonas Stankevicius glancing wide when unmarked following a swift counter-attack.
The second half was proving as trying as the first until the UAE conjured a rare incisive move, a swift interchange coming to a frustrating conclusion as Al Hammadi mis-hit the final shot after sharp play on the left.
This was a poor game, played out by a UAE side that sunk well below the standard set during their recently ended 20-match unbeaten run. Amer Abdulrahman’s unsightly fracas at the death evidenced the frustration, a booking well deserved for a push to the face.
This was a poor game, played out by a UAE side that sunk well below the standard previously set. In such circumstances, the securing of a commendable draw during the final seconds has great value.
Plenty remains to be played for when the three-week European tour ends on Sunday, a rare match against South American opposition coming as Paraguay head to Austria.
If you are serious about sport, someone who wants to try out a new activity or you have children who want to get involved, then the Dubai Sports City’s Open Day this Friday, September 5, is just what you are looking for.
The event, taking place at DSC’s state-of-the-art Indoor Dome from 9am to 2pm, will showcase a whole range of sports and sports facilities to give you a flavour of what is on offer in 2014-15.
There will be coaches from Spanish Soccer Schools, the programme led by Real Madrid and Spain legend Michel Salgado, from the ICC Academy and from the Butch Harmon School of Golf.
And all the coaches will be available to interact with children and discuss with parents the various courses and activities on offer at Dubai Sports City.
In its first season of operation in 2013-14, Spanish Soccer Schools coached more than 700 children, took some of them on a tour of Spain and produced a player – Souphiane Ourzik – who has gone on to sign for French club FC Nantes.
The ICC Academy, led by former Pakistan all-rounder and now head of development Mudassar Nazar, has taken children on tours of Kenya, Nepal and the United Kingdom, as well as providing a pathway to UAE representation.
The Butch Harmon School of Golf has its Junior Golf Programme with coaching starting with youngsters from four years of age – the Early Els group – as well as group coaching and one-on-one tuition led by director of instruction Justin Parsons, named by Golf Digest as one of the world’s 50 top coaches outside the USA.
All the coaching programmes go from toddlers right up until school- leaving age with Cricket Cubs and Socatots well established for the very youngest, and this year the ICC Academy will launch programmes for girls and adults too.
The Open Day will also showcase the superb, world-class facilities available at Dubai Sports City, including not only the Indoor Dome, with its full-sized, FIFA-approved indoor pitch, but also the ICC Academy’s two full-sized ovals and extensive indoor practice facilities.
It will also show off the world-class facilities available that provide opportunities in tennis, basketball, rugby union, Australian Rules football, American football and athletics. The Open Day was first held in January 2013 and has been growing steadily ever since. The event 12 months ago saw more than 1400 people attend to see what Dubai Sports City has to offer.
And with the swimming academy and fitness suite set to open imminently, there has never been a better time to head along to Dubai Sports City to see for yourself how you and your family can enjoy sport in a great environment.
And the day will not just be about sports activities, either.
It will also feature a bouncy castle, a climbing wall, face painting and a range of food and beverages on sale.
Dubai Sports City has also never been easier to get to with the F29 bus operating to and from the mall of the Emirates and the Hessa Street extension meaning it is located just minutes away from Dubai’s central artery, Sheikh Zayed Road.
Dubai Sports City general manager – sports business, Maqbul Dudhia, said: “We offer the chance for people to get fit or stay fit in comfortable surroundings and really enjoy the very best of what Dubai has to offer from a sporting and lifestyle perspective.”
What: Dubai Sports City Open Day
When: Friday, September 5, 9am to 2pm
Where: Indoor Dome at the Dubai Sports City Football Academy
Contact: Call 04 425 1111
Al Ain’s AFC Champions League stars have made a welcome return to boost the UAE ranks for today’s friendly with Lithuania.
Five Boss players missed last Wednesday’s laboured 0-0 draw with Norway because of their exertions securing progression to the semi-finals of Asia’s elite club competition against Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad.
Key men Khalid Essa, Mohammed Ahmed, Mohanad Salem, Ismail Ahmed and Omar Abdulrahman have now all joined up with their team-mates midway through the three-week European training camp.
They are available for the second of a trio of international fixtures, as the Whites gear up for November’s Gulf Cup defence in Saudi Arabia and January’s trip to Australia for the Asian Cup.
Coach Mahdi Ali has no new injuries to report for the match at Sportplatz Matrei Stadium in Linz, Austria (kick-off: 20:30).
The starting side is expected to be much changed, with the Al Ain call-ups filtering back in and new options being explored ahead of the final friendly against Paraguay on September 9.
Lithuania, 38 places below UAE at 103 in the latest FIFA rankings, are preparing for their opening Euro 2016 qualifier against San Marino on September 8.