A rather unfamiliar yet most welcome victory was secured for the UAE by Saif Rashid and Ali Salmeen goals as Yemen were dispatched 2-0 in Dubai on Tuesday.
The hastily-arranged friendly – the Whites were supposed to face Egypt in Abu Dhabi only for the match to be cancelled last week – yielded only a third win of 2018 at Al Wasl’s Zabeel Stadium.
Sharjah winger Rashid fired in Ismail Al Hammadi’s cross midway through the first half, with Wasl midfielder Salmeen securing victory after finishing from Ali Mabkhout’s pass.
Here we look at some talking points.
A WELCOME WIN
It wasn’t as if Yemen were absolutely torn to shreds in Dubai, but it was a solid and professional performance from the UAE – which in itself is a welcome anomaly to performances under Alberto Zaccheroni.
This was just a fifth win of the Italian’s largely forgettable reign thus far, and of the previous four only Oman, Uzbekistan and Iraq were scraped by one goal (Iraq were beaten on penalties in the Gulf Cup’s semi-finals to kick off 2018).
And since then it’s been nothing but abject misery from the Whites, who tossed away the chance for silverware by losing to Oman in the Gulf Cup final in Kuwait. A 3-0 pumping of lowly Laos in September was their only triumph in 10 games this year prior to Tuesday’s victory.
So whereas the UAE remain very much a work in progress, a win to break the boredom should be cherished.
Although he shows no signs of slowing down domestically, Mabkhout’s woes at national team level continued with a disjointed performance in front of goal against Yemen.
The lethal Al Jazira frontman struck the base of a post when presented with a prime opportunity to open the scoring in the first half, although his cute flick to tee up Salmeen for the second goal was both classy and crucial. But Mabkhout is missing something.
The game was played at the home of Wasl, known as the Cheetahs, which is fitting with Mabkhout chasing both the form of old that has taken him to 44 international goals in just 66 caps and the UAE goalscoring record held by Adnan Al Talyani (52) which is well within range.
One-time Jazira colleague Ahmed Khalil is five ahead of him in second place, but his woeful form of recent years means he is probably unlikely to surpass icon Al Talyani.
History is Mabkhout’s for the taking, but two goals in his last eight caps is hardly worthy of the history he is perusing.
AGE DOESN’T MATAR
Moving on to another striking legend in UAE circles – Ismail Matar, who is defying father time himself.
The Whites legend will be 36 next April yet is still clinging to his twilight years as if a child to his favourite toy.
The Al Wahda wonder had not featured under Zaccheroni until the 1-1 draw with Honduras last month – overlooked for the Italian’s first 12 games. The last of his now 127 caps had come in September 2017’s final World Cup qualifier against Gulf neighbours Iraq, though he has now been brought back in from the cold for the last three matches.
The veteran has featured regularly for the Clarets this term, scoring once in nine appearances, proving his worth to Laurentiu Reghecampf’s title chasers, and so now it seems, although belatedly, his national team boss.
Unlike Mabkhout, Matar looks unlikely to overtake Al Talyani’s mammoth 161 caps, but there is still life in the old dog yet.
The UAE Schools and Streets Cups and UAE Girls Challenge competitions, organised by duFC, continued last weekend with the second day of group stage matches played in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.
This year a record number of girls’ teams participated, one third of which are government school teams.
Charging into week two’s competition, the girls from British School Al Khubairat (BSAK) continued their winning streak, sauntering to the top of their group, while Um Al Emirate government school surprised everyone with a clean sweep of wins.
The knockout round of the Abu Dhabi leg of the UAE Girls Challenge is sure to be a heated competition.
“The duFC competition is a priority for us,” said Michael Neal, Thistle Girls’ Under-18 coach. “It’s hard to find games for our girls, and to have 14 other teams to compete against is really quite special.”
In the Schools Cup Boys U16 competition, Emirates National School surprised former duFC stalwarts International Community School, with a fast pace game ending 3-1 and sending them home top of their group.
“This is an excellent tournament with lots of participants. It’s great to see so many people out supporting the players too,” said Mrs Farida from EPS.
In other games, Al Manhal International Private School boys U16’s won three straight games.
In Al Ain, meanwhile, Gracevalley Indian School squeezed past favorites Al Dhafra Private School to the top of Group A.
In the Streets Cup Boys U14 section, FC Shadow Blazers blazed through all of their matches with a 14-point goal difference.
In the U16 group, Undefeatable Squad lived up to its name by taking all three games and leading their group, securing a place in the knockout round. Bani Yas, down one player in their final game, also secured a place in the knockout round with a 9-0 win over Nine Street.
The tournament’s scouting platform appeal was evident, both on the pitch and online. At the registration tent, players rushed to post videos of themselves and their friends on their du Talents profiles.
“Now that du’s scouting platform is online with du Talents I can upload my skills videos and have more chances of being scouted,” said a young Amer Ammar from Undefeatable Squad. “I also can’t wait to start getting tips from the LaLiga coaches through it.”
Nour Attar, from BSAK, added: “The du Talents feature is pretty cool, it’s a great way for us to build our own football community of like-minded young people.”
A new feature, du Talents is the Middle East’s first digital scouting platform where players can build their online profile and be seen by LaLiga scouts. Challenges posted on the platform gives players the chance to win cool prizes while honing specific skills designed by LaLiga scouts to test the players. It launched this month and already has over 1,000 members.
Having won the award for the Best Goal of the Year two years ago, USA captain Nick Perera has fond memories of his last experience of the Huawei Intercontinental Beach Soccer Cup in Dubai.
With the Huawei Intercontinental Beach Soccer Cup Dubai 2018 just a few days away, many of the event’s protagonists have been sharing words ahead of one of beach soccer’s most impressive and elite events – including Perera.
“Winning the Goal of the Year in 2016 was a very proud moment for me. I just saw the nominations for this year, and despite not being nominated I’m very excited to see who will win this year’s edition,” said the US skipper.
Following a year out of the competition in 2017, this year will be the team’s fourth appearance at the Intercontinental Cup in Dubai, spanning a seven-year period.
“This will be the third time I visit Dubai,” Perera added. “I have always enjoyed the beautiful location and the prestigious tournament. It’s a fantastic event and I’m looking forward to being part of the action once more.”
The US have been drawn in Group B, together with two former Intercontinental Cup champions, Russia and Iran, as well as runners-up of the last two World Cups, Tahiti.
Francis Farberoff’s men have some stiff competition in the group stages.
“The last time the United States were invited to Dubai, we also faced off against Iran and Russia in group play, so there is an air of deja vu,” recalls the American skipper.
But it’s clear the prospect of tough games represents an opportunity for this developing US side.
“I’m very excited for my team, and personally, to face such fantastic sides in group play; it’s in matches against top teams like Iran and Russia where we can learn the most.
“I’m confident in the mentality of our group that playing against the best in the world is a challenge we are ready for.”
Last minute preparations are taking place across the globe leading up to the tournament, which takes place from November 6-10 at Dubai’s Kite Beach.