Wednesday, November 24, 2010

History beckons a young UAE side in Asian Games final

The UAE football team could become the first Gulf side to win an Asian Games gold on Wednesday evening when they take on the mighty Japan at the Tianhe Stadium.
First, though, they must negotiate past another side that, suprisingly, has never triumphed in this event before.
The Emiratis are in fine form and victories over higher-ranked sides has won universal respect but they go into this game as outsiders.
Japan, by default, and courtesy of their placing in the FIFA rankings are the automatic favourite to lift the trophy.
But it would be unwise for the Japanese to write off a side that overcame three-time champions South Korea in a tense semi-final on Tuesday night.
The UAE beat the Koreans, the second most successful side in the history of the competition, when Ahmed Ali Al Abri scored the only goal of the game in the dying seconds of extra-time.
UAE, who had never made the semi-finals of the Asian Games football competition take on a Japanese side who, despite having played in the last four World Cups, one of which they co-hosted, have yet to taste the triumph of winning the gold medal in the Asian Games.
UAE have played just one World Cup in 1990 and will be determined to finish what has been a glorious tournament with the highest prize.
The fearless UAE team, full of youthful exurberance, are being prepared for the Olympic qualifiers to get into the London Olympics in 2012.
They have had an amazing run in the tournament. After winning two of their three matches in the group – they drew 1-1 against Hong Kong but beat both Uzbeks and Bangladesh 3-0, they beat the powerhouses of Asian football, the two Koreas.
But the hard-fought wins came at a cost. Their long-drawn out battles, both lasting 120 minutes, one of which went even beyond that into the penalties in the quarter-finals, has resulted in their players being fatigued.
Yet, as their coach Mahdi Ali Redha said, “We have come this far and we want to win the gold.
“In the last 10 years some of our good players have retired and we had some setbacks.
“But now we have young players and the new team is in place. We want to show our real ability to the world and I think we can do it.”
The long matches also cost them their star striker Ahmed Khalil Al Jenaiby, who was injured but still played in the semi-finals.
Leading by example
The coach hopes he will be fit for the final for the team will need to summon every ounce of energy and strength to go the full distance against a charged-up Japanese side.
For the UAE, their captain and goalkeeper, Ali Khaseif Housaini has been a big source of strength for the team.
He has led the team ably and also saved them in crucial situations, including a penalty shoot-out.
In contrast, Japan have been very consistent. They won all their six matches, three in the Group stage and then three in the knock-out and all of them were within 90 minutes.
They also have a solid defence, and the only goal they conceded was in the sixth minute of the semi-final against Iran, so the UAE strikers will have to be at their best to find a way through.
The star player for the Japanese has been Kensuke Nagai, 21, who has scored five goals in his five matches, and it was his solo winner that sealed four-time champion Iran’s fate in the semi-finals. He dribbled past three defenders over 20 metres before firing a low shot past the Iranian goalkeeper.
The Japanese defence then held out for the last 30 minutes as their goalkeeper Shunsuke Ando held his nerve in crucial stages.
In the final analysis, the UAE have everything to gain and nothing to fear.
The more experienced Japan, however, have a reputation to protect and a record to rectify as the two teams get ready for the battle.
By Staff Reporter

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