RAS AL KHAIMAH // The UAE's latest crop of talented teenagers still have a chance of emulating their Olympian predecessors, after a late goal by Yousif Saeed kept alive their AFC Under 19 Championship hopes tonight.
A UAE side managed by Mahdi Ali and comprising the core of the side who played at London 2012 this summer, won this biennial tournament four years ago.
The current vintage are now faced with the prospect of having to beat Japan to advance to the next phase.
However, judging by their gallant display against Iran at Emirates Club, which they squared when Saeed, the Sharjah forward, headed home with seven minutes left, they should have every confidence they can do it.
There is little denying the UAE have found themselves in a tough group for this tournament, with Iran and Japan both among the "favourites to win" the title according to Eid Baroot, the coach.
The Iranians had already proved their pedigree by beating Japan in their opener, while the UAE struggled to a draw against Kuwait.
However, the national team gave no quarter here. If anything, the host nation were the better side in the first half, fashioning the better opportunities but drawing a blank due to their wastefulness in front of goal.
Iran were clearly riled by their plucky opponents.
They could easily have lost Sardar Azmoun, the talented but apparently hotheaded forward, to a red card.
First he was booked for a foul for a high foot that was mistimed rather than malicious.
He was lucky to escape another yellow shortly after when he aimed a slap at the leg of Abdulrahman Yousuf, after being upended by a robust but fair challenge by the UAE full-back.
For all the neat football the two sides tried to play, the goal that broke the deadlock on 70 minutes came straight from a the Stoke City, sling-it-in-the-mixer play from Mohammed Ali Faramarzi, Iran's long-throw specialist. The midfielder benefited from the fact he was taking the throw-in from the main stand side of the ground, where there were no advertising boards to block his run up.
He took full advantage, starting off his run in the car park. He was literally stood parallel to a waiting ambulance when he started off.
His ensuing missile found its way to Alireza Jahan Bakhsh, who powered home a volley at the far post to give Iran the lead.
It would have been unjust on Baroot's plucky side if that goal was decisive, and they showed great resolve to hit back.
It was fitting that the equaliser fell to Saeed, the tireless Sharjah player who is listed as a forward but seemed to fill every position at some point tonight.
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