Video: Palestine hold UAE in historic World Cup qualifier

Video: Palestine hold UAE in historic World Cup qualifier
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Published September 9th, 2015 - 14:25 GMT via SyndiGate.info

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UAE held by plucky Palestine in World Cup qualifiers
UAE held by plucky Palestine in World Cup qualifiers

The UAE have become inured to challenging away assignments in recent years and revelled in them, winning the 2013 Gulf Cup in Bahrain and coming third in January’s Asian Cup in Australia.

But Tuesday’s 2018 World Cup Asian zone Group A qualifier away to Palestine always promised to be one of their sternest tests, given the hype and hoopla surrounding the historic fixture.

Perhaps, therefore, coach Mahdi Ali will be satisfied with a point from a goalless draw with plucky but limited opponents, who are ranked 49 places below the UAE in the Fifa rankings at 110.

That said, the UAE could and should have capitalised on their greater quality and second-half chances for striker Ahmad Khalil in a lacklustre encounter punctuated by long balls and miscontrols on a poor surface.

While the exuberant hosts lacked the Whites’ refinement and created little of note, they were invigorated by the prospect of playing only their country’s fourth competitive home fixture and first for four years.

A boisterous crowd at the 12,500-seater Faisal Al Husseini International Stadium created a febrile atmosphere, while the UAE struggled to find their normal passing fluency on the bobbly artificial pitch.

The UAE, who wore black armbands in memory of the 45 Emirati soldiers killed in Yemen last week, made only one change from their 10-0 thrashing of Malaysia in Abu Dhabi last Thursday. The injured Al Ain defender Mohammad Fawzi was replaced by his club teammate Esmail Ahmad as the Whites targeted a third successive win as Group A leaders.

The hosts, roared on by their flag-waving fans, who chanted relentlessly throughout, attacked energetically from the outset without threatening the UAE goal early on.

However, Sameh Marabaa lashed a fine angled half-volley over the bar after 19 minutes to serve notice of his threat for Palestine, who lay third in group behind leaders the UAE after a defeat and a win.

The 23-year-old midfielder possesses a strike rate a leading forward would be proud of, having notched 10 goals in 14 matches with the Olympic and senior teams.

But that was as good as it got for Palestine, who hustled and harried their visitors and countered with gusto without ever looking like scoring.

Mercurial playmaker Omar Abdul Rahman was unsurprisingly the Whites’ most prominent performer in a disjointed and scrappy first half, producing some delightful crossfield passes of which Lionel Messi would be proud.

But the away side, although superior, failed to muster any clear-cut opportunities as the pitch’s unven bounce disrupted their rhythm.

Their only chance on goal in an insipid first half was Khalil’s hopeful free-kick from long range, which Palestine goalkeeper Tawfiq Ali palmed away with ease.

Khalil, who scored four goals in last week’s mauling of Malaysia, had the UAE’s greatest chances in a more lively second half.

He lashed over on the half-volley from substitute Mohammad Abdul Rahman’s through ball after 66 minutes, and then headed Omar’s right-wing cross past the post when well placed in the penalty area.

With the UAE well on top, the bustling Al Ahli striker Khalil then had a venomous drive from the edge of the box palmed away by Ali.

But despite frenzied attacking in the final stages, the UAE could not earn the breakthrough that their dominance merited.

Meanwhile, the other game in the group on Tuesday, Malaysia-Saudi Arabia, had to abandoned after 87 minutes when a group of fans known as the Ultras Malaya launched flares and fireworks onto the pitch.

Saudi Arabia, who were second behind the UAE on goal difference at the start of play, had led 2-1 at the time of the abandonment.

Some fireworks even reached the grandstand where fans were seated, causing them to run for cover.

At the same time, Saudi fans could be seen running to the exits.

The Ultras were apparently protesting against the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) after their rout at the hands of the UAE.

This left Malaysia bottom of Group A with a solitary point, and led to the resignation of coach Dollah Salleh on Friday.

Salleh was replaced by the former Malaysia Under-23 coach Ong Kim Swee in an interim capacity on Saturday.

Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister, Khairy Jamaluddin later blamed FAM and certain irresponsible fans for causing the match to be halted.

He said FAM had lost control of their own stadium, blaming poor stadium security.

“FAM lost control of their own stadium. Fans throwing flares were wrong. Both at fault tonight,” Khairy said in a tweet, which was retweeted more than 3,000 times.

© Al Nisr Publishing LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

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