WC Qualification Asia: UAE 0-2 Japan

Published March 23rd, 2017 - 10:49 GMT
UAE's defender Abdulaziz Hussain Haikal (R) passes the ball as he is marked by Japan's forward Genki Haraguchi (2nd-R) during the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifier between UAE and Japan at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al-Ain on March 23, 2017.
NEZAR BALOUT / AFP
UAE's defender Abdulaziz Hussain Haikal (R) passes the ball as he is marked by Japan's forward Genki Haraguchi (2nd-R) during the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifier between UAE and Japan at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al-Ain on March 23, 2017. NEZAR BALOUT / AFP

How the unbridled joy of September’s stunning 2-1 win in Japan feels like a distant memory now for the UAE, who suffered a dismal 2-0 defeat to the same opponents in Al Ain on Thursday night.

The timid surrender at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium means that unless the UAE achieve an unlikely victory away to the reigning Asian champions Australia on Tuesday, they may as well say sayonara to their World Cup dreams.

The Whites lie fourth in Group B of the final Asian qualifying round for Russia 2018, four points behind the second-place Japanese, with only the top-two teams guaranteed progression.

And on the evidence of Thursday’s abject performance — Japan struck in either half through Yuya Kubo and Yasuyuki Konno — Mahdi Ali’s men will be staying at home next year.

In mitigation, the UAE were without a string of key players in front of a near-capacity crowd in the Garden City, most notably their totemic striker Ahmad Khali, who failed a late fitness test on a calf problem. Another injury victim, the towering Al Ain centre-back Esmail Ahmad, was also badly missed.

Khalil had scored both goals in the corresponding fixture in September and before Thursday’s game, he was the joint leader of the Asian qualifying charts with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Al Sahlawi on 15 goals.

The fact that Khalil’s deputy was the 33-year-old Al Wahda frontman Esmail Mattar merely highlighted the UAE’s lack of strength in depth.

And how the Samurai Blue brutally exposed this. Roared on by several hundred relentlessly noisy fans, they bossed possession from the outset as they strove to avoid a third successive defeat to the hosts.

And the visitors deservedly took the lead in the 13th minute when Hiroki Sakai played in Kubo to fire in an angled effort from the right after the striker easily evaded the dozing Abdel Aziz Sanquour.

The UAE were looking jittery, but from a counter-attack launched by Esmail Al Hammadi, the Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima had to produce a fine, sprawling save to deny Ali Mabkhout from close range.

It continued the Arabian Gulf League’s leading goalscorer’s five-game goal drought for the UAE, having not scored for his country since netting a brace in the 3-1 home win over Thailand in October.

This was the closest the UAE came to scoring in a lamentable first-half display, where attacks frequently broke down through careless passing. Even the normally impeccable Omar Abdul Rahman was off colour, ballooning a free-kick from the edge of the box over the bar.

Japan looked utterly dominant, in contrast, and Genki Haraguchi went close to doubling their advantage with a low drive as half time loomed.

The UAE began the second half with far greater urgency, though, Sanquor flashing a cross across goal which evaded his onrushing strikers and he then lashed over when well placed in the box.

But it proved to be a false dawn for Ali’s men when Yasuyuki tapped in from close range in the 51st minute after profiting from more poor marking — this time from Abdul Aziz Haikal — following Kubo’s cross.

The assured visitors were a threat every time they attacked, Yuya Osako (twice) and Shinji Okazaki going close to compounding the UAE’s misery.

The Whites possessed nothing like this cutting edge, meanwhile, with the unimpressive Mattar’s last act before being replaced by Salem Sale being an ambitious effort from long range dragged well wide.

Elsewhere in Group B on Thursday, leaders Saudi Arabia put themselves in pole position to qualify for Russia 2018 with an easy 3-0 win away to Thailand. They are ahead of Japan only on goal difference.

Meanwhile, group favourites Australia, the reigning Asian champions, were surprisingly held 1-1 away by Iraq.


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