The UAE exited the 2018 Asian Games but did so with their heads held high following a battling 1-0 defeat to heavyweights Japan in the semi-finals.
After an underwhelming passage to the last four via two penalty shootout wins against North Korea and minnows Indonesia – their only win at the Games came courtesy of a 4-1 hammering of lowly Timor-Leste in the group stage – Maciej Skorza’s side went toe to toe with the Samurai Blue.
Ayase Ueda struck a venomous goal 12 minutes from time to pierce the UAE’s hopes – rocketing a shot off the underside of Mohammed Al Shamsi’s crossbar after a fine tackle and pass from Kota Watanabe to set him up.
Ueda still had plenty to do but opened up his body beautifully and thundered his effort past the Al Wahda stopper.
Japan, expected to turn the Junior Whites over, instead toiled at the Pakansari Stadium on Wednesday.
Despite enjoying the dominant share of possession, Japan were constantly frustrated by their opponents, who also looked dangerous on the counter.
But Watanabe’s incisive pass and Ueda’s unstoppable finish was enough to send them into Saturday’s final, where they’ll play reigning champions South Korea, while the UAE will meet Vietnam in the battle for the bronze medal.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min played a captain’s role as Korea beat plucky Vietnam 3-1 to reach the final.
The World Cup star, who is missing the start of the Premier League season to represent his country in Indonesia, is now just 90 minutes away from a gold medal that would spare him a career-threatening spell of military service.
“I’m ready, I don’t think I need to say anything more,” said Son, refusing to be drawn on the subject. “We’re close to winning gold, to making history, and we will fight for it.”
A double from Lee Seung-woo and another goal from free-scoring striker Hwang Ui-jo sent the Taegeuk Warriors through to the final, where they will chase a record fifth title.
The UAE’s quest for a maiden Asian Games title remains on course, but they face a mighty test with Japan blocking their path to the 2018 final in Indonesia.
For the second game in a row, the Junior Whites had to overcome a nerve-shredding penalty shootout to beat North Korea 5-3 in Cibinong after it had finished 1-1 after extra-time.
Kim Yu-song opened the scoring with a fine header for the Koreans in the 63rd minute but Ali Eid rose to power in Zayed Al Ameri’s fine cross four minutes later to equalise.
In the shootout, Ahmed Al Attas, Al Ameri, Khaled Ibrahim and Hussain Abdulla all converted before Al Wahda goalkeeper Mohammed Al Shamsi saved from So Jong-hyok. Rashed Omar then netted to set up a mouthwatering showdown with the Samurai Blue on Wednesday (16:30 kick-off UAE time).
Japan reached the semis after a Yuto Iwasaki brace helped them beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 in the last eight on Monday.
The Samurai Blue opened the scoring at the Pakansari Stadium after 31 minutes when Daizen Maeda teed up Iwasaki, who curled a sublime effort over Mohammed Al Yami.
Six minutes before the break, the Green Falcons responded with Abdullah Al Yousif’s low shot parried by Ryosuke Kojima but straight into the path of his own defender Yugo Tatsuta, who could only watch in despair as the ball ricocheted off his heel and into his goal.
Japan continued to look the more dangerous and in the 73rd minute Maeda and Iwasaki combined once more to great effect.
Maeda broke free down the left before cutting a pass back to Iwasaki, who made no mistake in guiding a shot home to win it for the Japanese.
In the other semi-final, if Son Heung-min’s South Korea are to reach the final and the Tottenham Hotspur forward is to earn him and his colleagues exemption from military service, they will have to get past the “Korean Hiddink”.
Korean coach Park Hang-seo, a member of Guus Hiddink’s coaching staff at the 2002 World Cup when South Korea reached the semi-finals, is coaching Vietnam.
“Back then (in 2002) I was an assistant coach, but now I’m a head coach,” Park said after Vietnam’s 1-0 extra-time quarter-final victory over Syria set up a semi against his homeland. “We stopped in the semi-finals in 2002. But now we’ll not stop in the semi-finals.”
Spurs’ Son helped the Taegeuk Warriors reach the last four as the defending champions beat Uzbekistan 4-3 in a thrilling extra-time cliffhanger on Monday.
The World Cup star, who is in Indonesia chasing a gold medal that would spare him a career-threatening spell of military service, produced a pair of smart assists for hat-trick hero Hwang Ui-jo before a late Hwang Hee-chan penalty sent the Koreans through.
While Spurs were humbling Manchester United 3-0 in the Premier League some 7,000 miles away at Old Trafford, Son was the driving force as the Koreans advanced.
The Korea captain revealed that he was supposed to take the penalty kick but that substitute Hwang had demanded to take it – and Son couldn’t bear to watch, turning away as Hwang stepped up.
“Hee-chan said he wanted it and was confident,” he told reporters. “I told him to take the kick. I didn’t see where he put the penalty but I’m proud of him.”
The UAE are making it a habit of pulling out thrilling victories at the Asian Games.
Days after beating hosts Indonesia in a penalty shootout in the Last 16, the Junior Whites again triumphed on spot-kicks to overcome North Korea 5-3 in the quarter-finals of the tournament on Monday.
The win sets up a meeting with Japan in the semi-finals on Wednesday.
In penalties, UAE goalkeeper Mohammad Al Shamsi denied North Korea’s So Jong-hyok on the fourth kick, setting up Rashed Musabbah’s winner.
The sides were deadlocked at one apiece in normal time, with Kim Yu-song putting North Korea ahead in the 63rd minute on a header before Zayed Al Ameri struck back for the UAE four minutes later with his own header.
North Korea appeared to take the lead shortly after when Kim Yu-song again headed into the back of the net, but the goal was taken away as he was whistled for a shove.
The UAE are now one step away from reaching the title game, with Japan standing in the way after the Samurai Blue ousted Saudi Arabia 2-1 in their quarter-final clash on Monday.
Elsewhere, Tottenham forward Son Heung-min powered South Korea to the semi-finals as the defending champions beat Uzbekistan 4-3 in an electric match-up.
The World Cup star, who is in Indonesia vying for a gold medal that would keep him from a career-threatening spell of military service, notched a pair of smart assists for hat-trick hero Hwang Ui-jo before a late Hwang Hee-chan penalty sent the Koreans through.
While Spurs prepared to visit Manchester United in the Premier League some 7,000 miles away, Son was the driving force as the Koreans advanced to face Vietnam in the last four.
The Korea captain revealed that he was supposed to take the penalty kick but that substitute Hwang Hee-chan had demanded to take it – and Son couldn’t bear to watch.
“Hee-chan said he wanted it and was confident,” he said. “I told him to take the kick. I didn’t see where he put the penalty but I’m proud of him.”
Korea’s hopes of advancing almost evaporated in the space of two second-half minutes when Ikromjon Alibaev fired Uzbekistan level and then had a deflection off Hwang Hyun-soo trickle into the net.
However, Hwang Ui-jo struck back to complete his hat-trick with aplomb after 75 minutes.