UAE captain Saeed Al Kathiri admits poor scheduling affected the team’s performance but refused to use it as an excuse for their 1-0 defeat to North Korea in the Asian Games football quarter-finals today.
Less than 48 hours separated the last 16 matches and quarter-finals and Al Kathiri said it was impossible to recover in time.
The Whites were on their way into extra time against the North Koreans after both sides failed to score in the first 92 minutes before Jong In-Gwan buried a goal in the third minute of injury time to dash the UAE’s hopes of securing a medal.
"We didn’t want to lose like this, but this is football. We tried and we were close," Al Kathiri told Sport360°.
"There were exactly 46 hours between our last 16 and quarter-final matches, how could we possibly recover or rest in such little time?
"But also it was the same for North Korea, so we can’t use this as an excuse, but it was tough and it definitely affected us.
"Our match was played at 2:00pm, at least they could have scheduled it a bit later in the day."
Al Kathiri, who has scored four goals for the UAE this tournament and is one of three overage players allowed in the under-23 squad, was part of the team that won silver at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou under current national team coach Mahdi Ali.
That team blossomed under Mahdi’s guidance and after impressing in the London 2012 Olympics, have graduated with him to the country’s first team, which has triumphed in the Gulf Cup and are looking to excel at the upcoming AFC Asian Cup in Australia in January.
Asked whether he believes the current Olympic squad can have a similar success story, Al Kathiri said: "To be honest, I feel this generation has talent but they need support. They need someone to stand behind them.
"The coach (Ali Ibrahim) is good and the players are capable, they are also very young. We were one of the youngest teams here in Korea. If they continue working hard and get the necessary support, they can do well."
On his part, coach Ali Ibrahim could not fault his players for today's defeat to North Korea and seconded Al Kathiri’s views on the scheduling.
"We played a big match and it was tough for both teams as we had such little time between the last 16 and the last eight," said Ibrahim.
"We had several chances to score but we were unlucky and they stole the match with that late goal."
In other quarter-final action, South Korea captain Jang Hyun-Soo converted a penalty two minutes from time to beat arch-rivals Japan and set-up a semi-final against Thailand, who defeated Jordan 2-0.
The other semi-final will see North Korea face a tough tie against Iraq, who downed Saudi Arabia 3-0.
The UAE suffered last-minute heartbreak in their Asian Games quarter-final against North Korea after conceding an injury-time goal that sent them crashing out of the tournament.
After defeating Vietnam 3-1 in the last-16, captain Saeed Al Kathiri revealed the UAE's burning desire to claim gold, although Jong In-Gwan's last-gasp strike put paid to those ambitions.
North Korea, who entered the clash undefeated and off the back of a 4-1 destruction of Indonesia, were expected to be the UAE's toughest opponents of the tournament and so it proved.
However, the Whites defended valiantly and were able to cause the North Koreans some problems the opposite end with their pace and trickery in attack.
But just as the spectators were bracing themselves for extra-time, Jong popped up to bury a goal in the third of five minutes of injury time to secure North Korea's entry into the semi-finals.
North Korea will play the winner of Sunday's quarter-final between Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Elsewhere, Thailand eased into the last four, beating Jordan 2-0 through goals from Chanathip Songkrasin and Thawikan Kroekrit.
Thailand's Chanathip, known to his fans as 'Messi J', scored with an easy shot from the edge of the penalty area in the 37th minute. Thawikan fired home in the 70th minute after the Jordanian defence had desperately cleared two shots.
Thailand take on the victors in the grudge match between hosts South Korea and Japan.
Abu Dhabi Country Club (ADCC) were made to work for their 2-1 win over Abu Dhabi Wolfhounds 2 that saw them retain the Ladies' Football International title yesterday.
Dealila Zarouki opened the scoring before Wafa Nacha doubled the lead at GEMS American Academy in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi Wolfhounds 2 pulled one back through Louise Irvine.
ADCC continued to pile on pressure to restore their two-goal cushion but held on for the narrow win.
Fama Al Fouk, ADCC coach, said: “The opponents were really tough. We knew before the game it would be difficult because we beat them 3-1 in the group stage. And plus playing in the hot weather didn’t help us.”
Abu Dhabi Wolfhounds coach Stephen Daly added: “It was a very tough encounter and much closer than the game in the group stage. However, I can say I’m very happy with our overall performance today. There are some things we need to work on but that will take time; it was a great effort from the players.”
It was only the second tournament they have played in and Daly hopes the players will have learned from their experience.
He said: “This will be a learning curve for the players and they can apply what they’ve learnt in future competitions.”
Yas Kicks, Abu Dhabi Thistle, Abu Dhabi Youth FC, UAE U-16s (two teams), Abu Dhabi Wolfhounds 1, as well as the two finalists, took part in the seven-a-side competition, organised by E-Sports.
E-Sports sports development manager Kaye Smith was pleased with the turnout and hopes more sides will take part in the third edition in December.
She said: “It was great to see the turnout today and E-Sports will continue to facilitate these tournaments to keep promoting women’s football.
“And now we want to encourage more teams across the Middle East to take part in the future. We’ve had interest from Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and we hope those teams can compete in our next competition.”