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.
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