Omar Abdulrahman’s hopes of appearing in January’s Asian Cup remain alive after the UAE playmaker was diagnosed with just a badly-bruised right ankle.
Worries grew that the 23-year-old had picked up another serious injury when he limped off in pain during the 26th minute of Sunday’s 3-2 Gulf Cup semi-final loss to hosts Saudi Arabia.
The concern centred around a possible reoccurrence of the knee ligament issue which saw him miss the two months prior to Khaleej 22. A similar problem would have created severe doubts about his participation in the continent’s elite international competition.
According to the UAE Football Association, Abdulrahman was taken to National Guard Hospital in Riyadh following the last-four clash. Preliminary tests, including x-rays, deduced there had been no fracture.
His right foot was placed in a cast, with the player set to remain on crutches prior to further evaluations being made in the next two days. There appears no prospect of featuring in tonight’s third-place play-off against Oman.
Speaking after the Saudi game, Whites boss Mahdi Ali remained hopeful about his star midfielder’s condition.
Abdulrahman was the victim of several heavy challenges in the opening stages of the clash with the Green Falcons.
The injury occurred when defensive midfielder Waleed Rashid felled him from behind, bringing a juddering halt to a darting run.
Saudi Arabia coach Juan Ramon Lopez Caro says their march to the final is the result of two years of hard work.
Lopez Caro, 51, took the post in January 2013 following the Green Falcons’ disastrous group-stage exit under Frank Rijkaard during the previous event in Bahrain.
The ex-Real Madrid manager has guided his team to Asian Cup qualification, with steady progression also being made on home soil in the last fortnight. Qatar stand in the way of a fourth Gulf Cup success when the sides meet in tomorrow’s decider at King Fahd International Stadium.
Lopez Caro’s vision is clear. Predatory lone striker Nasser Al Shamrani is a constant threat up top, ably supplied by a trio of playmakers.
Defensive midfielders Saud Khariri and Waleed Rashid perform as pivots in the 4-2-3-1 formation, bombing full-backs providing extra width.
“We have been working with this group of players for two years and we’ve succeeded in creating a strong team,” Caro said.
“From the beginning our targets were clear – to produce an organised defensive unit and then improve the mentality of the team so they can have a distinct identity.
“We are always looking to get positive results to strengthen the team’s competitiveness and we always try to pick the best team, but ultimately the form of the individual players is the biggest factor in football. Our team has developed clear discipline and mental strength.”
Lopez Caro has been harangued and criticised at every turn by the Saudi media, his press conferences resembling interrogations.
Vindication of his methods remain tantalisingly close, though there will be no complacency until the Khaleej trophy is in his hands.
He added: “It’s easy to judge a match in hindsight, and of course it’s the same for the manager who may be aware of mistakes at the end. For the final, we need to be patient in our decisions. We will look to have the players in shape, we will study the opposition. And then we will take the decisions that will be right ones for the team.”
The UAE will be working hard to fix the mistakes that led to defeat against Saudi Arabia in time for tonight’s third-place play-off, according to coach Mahdi Ali.
A lack of pressure at the back and the glaring absence of defensive midfielder Khamis Esmail through suspension contributed to an error-strewn semi-final display from the holders on Sunday.
Nasser Al Shamrani and Nawaf Al Abid both punished failures in concentration from centre-back Mohamed Ahmed and right-back Abdelaziz Sanqour to put the hosts 2-0 ahead. Ahmed Khalil’s second-half brace gained creditable parity, only for Salem Al Dawsari to dance through on the edge of the penalty box and fire in a crushing 86th-minute winner.
The heartbreaking loss sees a re-match against Group B opponents Oman at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium tonight, following their 3-1 reversal against Qatar.
Ali has vowed to look to the future in the clash, with one eye projected to his options ahead of January’s Asian Cup.
“They were were mistakes which lead to the defeat and that is my responsibility as the coach, the 49 year old said. “We hope to fix them in the next few days.
“I think you saw our fans cheering the team despite the loss, and even the Saudi fans waited to applaud them, I don’t need to laud these players. We are always looking to bring players in, and now we have 45 days left [before the trip Down Under] and we will see how we can best prepare them.”
The Whites stuttered to a 0-0 draw against Oman when they met in the previous round. Paul Le Guen’s men have impressed throughout their tenure in Riyadh, gaining a memorable highlight when they thrashed Kuwait 5-0.
Le Guen said: “We are on the right track. We’ve had some quite good games. I won’t give up.
“I think that I know my players better than at the beginning of the competition, but that’s the case for all of the coaches.”
A solid turnout of Emirati supporters made the trip to Riyadh for the last-four clash. Forward Ismail Matar has thanked them for their attendance, expressing regret that they couldn’t reach the final.
“There were opportunities created to make the final, but we were not able to reconcile them,” the Al Wahda star said. “I thank the fans for the support they have given us and we are sad because we did not please them with the win.”