They may have scraped into the last 16, but the UAE’s path to the later stages of the 2018 Asian Games appears fairly clear.
Maciej Skorza’s men take on hosts Indonesia in Cikarang on Friday, knowing that a place in the semi-finals is realistically theirs for the taking.
Though the teams competing are the Under-23 group, the senior UAE and Indonesia sides are poles apart in terms of the FIFA rankings.
The south-east Asian minnows are ranked 164th in the world – 87 places behind the UAE.
Negotiate their way past the co-hosts and the UAE’s task could be even easier with a quarter-final tie against either North Korea or Bangladesh awaiting them.
The Koreans are ranked just outside the top 100 (108th) but Bangladesh are 194th in the world – the rankings only go down to 206th.
Also in the Junior Whites’ favour is that two forgetful games to open the tournament – Skora’s side lost 1-0 to Syria before trouncing hapless Timor-Leste 4-1 – was followed by a stirring 2-1 defeat to rampant Group C winners China on Sunday.
The Junior Whites had gained a deserved lead on Sunday through Fujairah winger Mohammed Khalfan’s snapped low finish against qualified opponents, who came into the clash with a goal difference of +9.
Beijing Guoan left winger Wei Shihao cut inside onto his favoured right boot and arrowed a powerful effort past Mohamed Al Shamsi to equalise.
Shandong Luneng midfielder Yao Junsheng then looked up from near the halfway line on 71 minutes and powerfully lobbed Al Wahda goalkeeper Al Shamsi to seal a come-from-behind victory.
Despite a second defeat in two games, the UAE snuck in to the last 16 as one of the four best third-place finishers. If they can win their next two games, the last four is where things will start to get tricky.
Make the semis and one of Asia’s heavyweights will greet them, with China taking on Gulf rivals Saudi Arabia and Japan facing Malaysia on the UAE’s side of the draw.
The UAE take on Indonesia at 13:00 UAE time on Friday.
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