Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
How the UAE respond to an early setback while playing at home will speak volumes. Silvia Razgova / The National
How the UAE respond to an early setback while playing at home will speak volumes. Silvia Razgova / The National

The motivated boys in red just ran out of gas

Honduras got the best of the UAE in their Fifa Under 17 World Cup opener but how the young Emiratis respond to the early setback will speak volumes, writes Ali Khaled.

It was at times heroic, but ultimately heartbreaking.

Over the past 16 months, the young Emirati players had prepared for every opponent, for every possible scenario. But few of them would have envisaged adversity striking so early in the opening match of the Fifa U17 World Cup against Honduras at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.

A goal down, a man down, and not even half an hour played.

The crowd was initially modest, but most of the players had never had the eyes of the world’s media on them to such a degree. They were nervous and it showed.

Inspiration was needed, from somewhere.

On Tuesday night Rashid Amir’s youngsters had watched as Mahdi Ali’s seniors destroyed Hong Kong 4-0 in their latest 2015 Asian Cup qualifier. The U17 assistant coach Abdullah Al Shaheen had called the Gulf Cup heroes the perfect “role models”.

The UAE started as if desperate to emulate Ali Mabkhout, Omar Abdulrahman and co; to make the country proud, as they had promised pre-tournament.

And what a start it was. In the very first minute, Mohammed Al Akberi found himself one on one with the keeper Cristian Hernandez, who saved brilliantly. Almost dreamland.

The crowd, so sparse and disappointing for the earlier match between Brazil and Slovakia, eventually swelled to over 8,000 and to their credit were making plenty of noise. Sadly, it didn’t last; harsh reality was about to intervene.

On 19 minutes, Al Akberi’s opposite No 9, Alberth Elis, missed while through on goal. A minute later, Honduras took the lead through Fredy Medina. Clearly, they were no pushovers, their artistic playmaker Rembrandt Flores arguably the most creative player on the pitch.

Then came the turning point of the match, Sultan Al Shamsi’s sending off for a high tackle. Surely, the UAE would never recover. The crowd kept singing, and drumming. But the passes were straying, and the chances dried up.

Then, out of nowhere, a quite wonderful chipped pass by Suhail Al Noobi put Khaled Khalfan through on goal. The first touch took him past the keeper, the second gleefully scored from one yard; 1-1.

The players, relieved, bowed in prayer. In the stands, the fans had theirs answered.

Suddenly, all those long hours of preparation away from home were bearing fruit. Where the 11 men had struggled, the 10 flourished. Adversity had bred resistance.

But could they hold out?

Over the past year, the UAE Football Association had matched their youngsters against teams several years older, with the aim of physically toughening them up. It showed. Despite the numerical disadvantage, the boys in red were up to the challenge.

Al Akberi, the loneliest player on the pitch, ran his heart out up front, dragging the Honduran defenders all across the back line. Often lost in a sea of defenders, he offered a lone ray of hope. Already, he has singled himself out as a star of the future.

But, as the match wore on, cramp and injuries inevitably began to show. Khalid Mohammed and Al Noobi both limped off.

Flores kept pulling the strings. Within seconds, Abdullah Al Hammadi saved off the line twice. In, the corners kept coming, and out the Emirati headers kept clearing them. But the pressure was mounting and the dam was about to burst.

On 86 minutes, heartbreak. A shot by Bryan Velasquez from the edge of the area beat Al Shamsi. The young Emiratis had nothing left to give.

At the final whistle the players sank to their knees, in exhaustion as much as dejection. But there was one last act of defiance; a huddle in the centre circle before departing to applause from an appreciative crowd.

For Rashid Amir and his players, there is no time for self pity. Next up, on Sunday, it’s the boys from Brazil.


@ For more FIFA UNDER 17 WORLD CUP news visit our topic page

Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Download the World Cup wall chart.

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Al Rayyan's Yakubu Ayegbeni, left, tries to escape the attention of Jazira's Khamis Ismail. Karim Jaafar / AFP Photo

Late strike puts Al Jazira on verge of qualifying for the last 16 of Asian Champions League

All to play for across East Asia during final round of group phase.

 Manchester City's Vincent Kompany reacts after being sent off by referee Lee Mason during their English Premier League soccer match against Hull City at the KC stadium in Hull, northern England March 15, 2014. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

Man City’s Manuel Pellegrini says Vincent Kompany is an important player

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini defends team captain and talks about team's injuries ahead of clash with Sunderland at home on Wednesday night.

 Supporters of China during the Asian Cup Qualifier match between Iraq vs China at Sharjah football stadium in Sharjah. Iraq won the match by 3-1. Pawan Singh / The National

Asian Cup expanding to 24 football teams in 2019

As part of a regional shake-up, the 2019 Asian Cup will climb to 24 teams but next month’s Challenge Cup in the Maldives will be the last, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced.

 Latifa Ali Al Shamsi of UAE fights compatriot Boshra Ghanem Al Zadjali in their 38.5kg match at the Junior World Jiu-Jitsu Championship. Christopher Pike / The National

Competitors at Abu Dhabi Junior World Jiu-Jitsu Championship target world domination

All of Wednesday’s winners at the tournament, being held in the UAE capital, are ambitious enough to target a black belt and reach the pinnacle of the sport, Amith Passela reports.

 Jacques Kallis top-scored with 72 for Kolkata Knight Riders against Mumbai Indians at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. Pawan Singh / The National

Kallis kicks off IPL 7 with fifty as Kolkata thrash Mumbai

South African legend shows class is permanent as Knight Riders beat defending champions by 41 runs. Osman Samiuddin reports from Abu Dhabi.

 Amir Khan, during a workout at the Gloves Community Centre on March 24, 2014 in Bolton, England, says his fight will be the real main event in Las Vegas on May 3. Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Amir Khan says bout with Luis Collazo ‘will steal the show’ in Las Vegas on May 3

British-Pakistani boxer Amir Khan says his fight with Luis Collazo will be the main attraction on same fight card led by Floyd Mayweather Jr and Marcos Maidana, writes Omar Al Raisi.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National