DUBAI // The poor attendance for the UAE's friendly match against Uzbekistan last night left Mahdi Ali thinking it would be better if he could play all his matches away from home.
As is usually the case with national team matches in the country, few Emiratis, probably about a 100, turned up at Al Shabab to support the side.
The Uzbeks, though, were out in numbers and cheered their team throughout game, helping them to twice recover from a goal down and share the honours in a 2-2 draw.
"I wish I could play all our games outside," said Mahdi Ali. "It is very strange when you play at home and you see that the crowds for the opponents is more.
"I think Egypt is playing Gabon in a friendly game tonight and I hear that the tickets were sold at a high price and still the stadium is full. Here, attendance is free and still nobody is there.
"I am really disappointed and I hope we could play in a better environment."
As the coach of the youth and Olympic team, Mahdi Ali saw his team play in front of packed stands at the 2009 Youth World Cup in Egypt and the London Games earlier this season.
Even in his first game as the national coach in Japan, more than 40,000 fans had packed the stadium.
Asked what could be done to bring more home fans to the stadium, Mahdi Ali said: "I think when your national team is playing, you don't need to be invited to attend the game."
Despite the lack of support from the stands, Mahdi Ali's side made a bright start and Hamdan Al Kamali almost put them ahead with a rasping free kick in the 10th minute, but was denied by a post.
The hosts did take the lead though in the 28th minute with Ismail Matar finishing off a move he had started.
First, Matar played a one-two with Omar Abdulrahman and then with his Al Wahda teammate Saeed Al Kathiri before he jumped high to side-heel the ball over the advancing Uzbek goalkeeper Murod Zukhurov.
Uzbekistan got the equaliser in time added on in the first half, when Sanjar Tursunov took advantage of a rare defensive lapse and placed the ball to the far corner.
The UAE were, however, back in the lead in the 62nd minute as Al Kathiri blasted home Matar's deft back-heel.
The shot was well within the Uzbek goalkeeper's reach and he even got a hand to it but failed to hold on.
Uzbekistan levelled the scores once again in the 67th minute when they were awarded a penalty.
The referee pointed to the spot after Al Kamali dragged down Oleg Zoteev and Server Djeparov fired home the rebound after Ali Khasif, the UAE goalkeeper, had blocked his penalty kick.
"Uzbekistan are one of the strong teams in Asia," said Mahdi Ali, who added he was pleased with his team's performance.
"They are probably among the top five in the continent. They are very well organised and physically they are very strong. It is good to play with such teams."
The game should have provided a few early pointers for the two coaches as the UAE and Uzbekistan have been drawn in the same group for the 2015 Asian Cup qualifiers, along with Vietnam and Hong Kong.
Mirjalol Qosimov, the Uzbek coach, is not thinking that far ahead though.
On Tuesday, they are taking on Qatar in Doha in a 2014 World Cup qualifier and Qosimov believes this match was an important preparation for his team.
"This was a very vital match for us ahead of the game in Doha on October 16," he said.
"If you look at the [Asian Cup] group, the two other teams will be struggling for a spot in the final. But for now, we have other goals, other assignments. The UAE team also has another goals and we should focus on our immediate goals."
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