ABU DHABI // The UAE passed their European test last night with a 2-1 win over Estonia.
Hamdan Al Kamali and Ali Mabkhout scored either side of Jarmo Ahjupera's goal to seal the victory at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
The result means Mahda Ali, the Emirati coach, has improved his record to three wins, one draw and a defeat in his first five games in charge. The loss came against the Asian heavyweights Japan.
"Winning is not our only objective from these friendlies," said Mahdi Ali. "We want to also provide more playing opportunities for those who joined after injuries and new players that have been drafted in to the squad, to see them and create a bigger squad available for the national team.
"Winning, of course, provides the players more motivation and also improves our rankings that would help us in the future in the draws for any competitions."
Al Kamali opened the scoring for the home side with a 31st minute penalty before Ahjupera picked up a through ball from Vassiljev Konstantin to equalise in added time in the first half.
The UAE defence, marshalled by Ismail Ahmed, was solid and Kasheif was outstanding between the posts with several good saves.
Ahmed Khalil, who came on as a second-half substitute, set up Mabkhout with a superb through pass for the Al Jazira forward to score his fifth goal for the UAE in the last two games.
Mabkhout had missed a golden opportunity to put the host ahead in the 23rd minute.
Ismail Matar, the captain, split the Estonian defence to send Mabkhout scuttling into the box and into a one-on-one with Sergei Pareiko, the Estonia goalkeeper, but he shot wide.
Spurred on by that move, the UAE made inroads on the opponent's goal and were awarded their penalty when Alo Barengrub, the Estonia captain and centre-back, was caught pulling the shirt of Ahmed as he attempted to reach a free kick floated towards the goalmouth.
Estonia had a couple of efforts early in the second half but Tarmo Kink's header flew over the bar and Ali Kasheif, the UAE goalkeeper, did well to hold on to a bullet effort from Gert Kams.
Mabkhout missed a second scoring opportunity as he was too slow in front of the Estonia goal. Khalil picked up a pass from Rashid Eisa, worked his way inside the box before slipping ball in toward the Jazira forward, whose effort was blocked by Taavi Rahn.
Kasheif came to the UAE's rescue again when he punched away a close-range volley from Dmitri Kruglov.
Mabkhout, who was on target four times in their 6-2 win over Bahrain in their last friendly, was named in the starting line-up despite Khalil's return from injury.
Omar Abdulrahman, the diminutive Al Ain midfielder, was also left out in favour of his club teammate Ali Al Wehaibi, another returning from injury.
They were both introduced for the second half in place of Matar and Ismail Al Hammadi, while Eisa came on for Al Wehaibi and Mohammed Ahmed for Al Kamali.
"I wanted to give those players who returned from injuries like Ismail Al Hammadi and Ali Al Wehaibi a game and that's why the understanding didn't work as well as we thought," said Mahdi Ali. "But when we brought in those who have been playing regularly like Rashid [Eisa] and Omar [Abdulrahman] there was a marked improvement in the second half."
Last night's friendly was the fifth game in Mahdi Ali's preparation for the Gulf Cup in Bahrain from January 5 to 18. The UAE will regroup to travel to a training camp in Qatar on December 18 and then fly directly to Bahrain for the biennial championship.
Estonia are ranked 89 in the Fifa world rankings, 20 places above the UAE. They beat Oman 2-1 last week before arriving in Abu Dhabi.
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