Ahmad Khalil: Forget Japan and concentrate on Australia
UAE player Ahmad Khalil, winner of the AFC Player of the Year Award poses with the trophy at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC)'s Annual Awards in Gurgaon, on the outskirts of New Delhi on November 29, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP
Ahmad Khalil, the UAE’s goalscoring hero in the 2-1 victory over Japan on Thursday, has urged his teammates to “forget” their sensational win and focus on the upcoming test against Australia on Tuesday.
Khalil fully justified his 2015 Asian Player of the Year award with two magnificent goals in the Whites’ triumph, in what was the start of the third and final qualification round for the 2018 Fifa World Cup.
His curling free-kick (20) and a chipped, ‘Panenka’ penalty (54) helped the UAE upset their opponents ranked 25 places higher than them at 49 in the Fifa rankings in the Group B opener.
But the Al Ahli striker was pragmatic rather than euphoric afterwards, despite the fact the UAE made the perfect start to their quest to reach their second global showpiece after Italia 1990.
“If we want to qualify for the World Cup, we have to forget the match against Japan and concentrate on Australia, so I will not celebrate,” he said. “The three points we achieved are in the past and we hope our fans will fill the [Mohammad Bin Zayed] Stadium against Australia.”
Khalil added: “We promise we will do our best, but the dream of the World Cup is still far away. But we are confident in our capabilities.”
In Thursday’s late match, Nawaf Al Abid’s penalty six minutes from time earned Saudi Arabia a 1-0 win over a spirited Thailand at the King Fahd Stadium.
“We saw that the match was very difficult as we played an organised side who played with a defensive performance,” said Bert van Marwijk, the Saudi coach. “We had better control on the ball, especially in the first half and we controlled the match.
“We played well and we managed to score a goal which was enough for us, while our opponents tried to go forward with counter-attacks. We finished the match from one chance and this is football at the end of the day.”
Kiatisuk Senamuang’s Thailand side had impressed throughout, refusing to be overawed by a partisan home crowd of almost 41,000, with the striker Teerasil Dangda especially prominent.
Midway through the first half, the Muangthong United man forced the Saudi goalkeeper Yasser Al Mosailem into action after unfurling a shot from the edge of the box.
As time ticked down, however, the Saudis increased the pressure on the visitors’ goal. The Thai goalkeeper, Kawin Thamsatchanan, kept out Nawaf Al Abid’s long-range effort in the 70th minute and it looked increasingly as if the away side would leave with a point.
But, in the 81st minute, Sarach Yooyen was adjudged to have brought down Fahad Al Muwallad and, after several minutes of discussions between the Thai players and the referee, Al Abid stepped up to slot his left-footed spot-kick into the bottom corner as he wrong-footed Thamsatchanan.
Thailand pushed for the equaliser in the dying minutes, but Van Marwijk’s side held on to claim all three points.
“We had a big match tonight and the performance was excellent,” said Kiatisuk, the Thais’ coach. “The turning point was the penalty that we conceded but before that we managed to have a good performance and gave our opponents a hard time.”
While the UAE entertain the Australians, 2-0 victors over Iraq, on Tuesday, Thailand host Japan and the Saudis travel to Iraq.
By Euan Reedie