Australia's Tim Cahill was in a confident mood as the Socceroos prepare to face South Korea in the Asian Cup final in Sydney on Saturday (31st January).
Reaction from the United Arab Emirates coach after they are beaten 2-0 in the semi-final of the Asian Cup by Australia.
NEWCASTLE, Australia – There were some cynical responses to reports from Abu Dhabi that Al Wahda had signed a tentative deal to sign Australian superstar Tim Cahill that emerged just 24 hours before United Arab Emirates took on the Socceroos in the second semi-final of the 2015 Asian Cup.
An attempt to unsettle Australia's most influential player? Perhaps but if the UAE thought they had dealt with Cahill, they forgot about some lesser-known Aussie stars such as Jason Davidson and Trent Sainsbury, two defenders who scored both goals in a 2-0 win inside the first quarter of an hour.
It made for a long night for that group of UAE supporters on a wet occasion at Newcastle Stadium who made up in passion what they lacked in numbers. They were still singing after the players had disappeared from the pitch, unable, despite all their efforts to get a real foothold in a game that was played at a strangely slow tempo amid a strangely subdued atmosphere.
For coach Mahdi Ali, who has proven to be popular with the media Down Under and not just because of the football his team tries to play, it is time to start thinking about how the UAE can continue to play in such big games at big tournaments.
"Playing under pressure every three days against strong teams is a great experience for the players," Ali said. "You need to concentrate in critical moments, especially in the first 15 minutes, at the end of the first half and the start of the second half, but we lost concentration in the first 15 minutes and conceded two goals.
"This is a big lesson and we need to learn that you have to concentrate for 90 minutes and mistakes are not acceptable or you lose the game."
It was always going to be tough to repeat the heroics against Japan in the quarter-final four days previously. Compared to that game, UAE played more attacking football but were nowhere near as tight at the back, especially in the opening exchanges.
Sainsbury headed the Socceroos into a third minute lead from a right-sided corner to give the West Asians the kind of start they really did not want. It went from bad to worse just before the quarter-hour mark. Another set piece was not cleared and when a loose ball fell to Davidson inside the area, the defender fired home from close range.
The two strikes left UAE, underdogs as they already were, with a huge task and it was one that they never really looked like completing. Matters settled down over the rest of the first half but still Ali's men struggled to create the clear cut chances needed to get back into the game.
“It was a big and important game," said the UAE coach. "A semi-final is not easy to give away two goals from mistakes in the first 15 minutes, especially when you are playing against the hosts with big support.
"It was difficult to come back into the game. This affected us a lot, but we tried our best to come back into the game, but it was not easy. Australia won the game because they were the better side.”
You would not find too many arguments from the Australians, delighted and relieved upon reaching the final on home soil. Davidson revealed after the final whistle that the Soccoroos intended to start the game in an aggressive fashion.
“That was the game plan,” said the second goalscorer. "We knew that UAE would be tired and would give us a fight at the start and the goal was to start as quickly as possible and get as many goals as we could.
"As the game kicked on, I think fatigue kicked in a little bit but we worked hard and kept a clean sheet. To score a goal and help the team get to the Asian Cup final is a dream come true.”
It is such dreams that the UAE almost achieved Down Under.
From the very beginning, the pre-match press conference before the Qatar opener, Ali had been talking of winning the first game, getting out of the group and then reaching the last four. All three targets were met by the coach, but at the very end (the third and fourth play-off with Iraq excepted) he revealed a hopeful fourth.
“When we came here our aim was to reach the semi-finals,” said Ali. “We achieved our first goal, but that was not the big dream, the big dream was to win the title.”
It was not to be this time but the experience here will stand this team, still young and perhaps a little naive, in good stead for the future.
MAN OF THE MATCH : Khamis Esmaeel:
A fine performance in midfield for the Al Jazira man who gave the defence plenty of protection and provided energy for his team going forward.
UAE VERDICT : After games with Iran and Japan, Australia at home proved to be a step too far. UAE were not outclassed by any means but a slow start gave the team too much to do.
AUSTRALIA VERDICT : The Socceroos did what they had to do early on and never looked in too much danger of letting that place in the final slip. UAE posed problems but not as many as some expected.