The UAE's Olympic team saved the best for last. The very last.
In the dying seconds of extra time, Ahmed Ali put the ball into the back of the net with the final kick of the game as the nation's Under 23 side defeated South Korea 1-0 yesterday and advanced to the gold-medal game at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.
The UAE will play Japan tomorrow for the gold medal.
The Koreans replaced Kim-seung Gyu with Lee-bung Yung in goal in anticipation of a shoot-out with a minute left in the extra time, but their ploy fell apart as Ali finished the game off in the very last move.
Ali's goal came after the midfielder Omar Abdulrahman rolled an exquisitely timed pass to the right of the penalty area to give the charging Ali a clear shot at goal in the 122nd minute. "It's a moment I will remember for a long, long time," Ali said. "But more important was winning the game and I am happy I was able to do it for my team.
"It worked out as a drill exercise. I saw space on my side and signalled to Omar [Abdulrahman] that I was coming on his right side and he sent me a perfect pass, and with the Korean defence still retreating, I had plenty of time to take aim and shoot."
It was another prolonged but dramatic victory for the UAE, who won a penalty shoot-out over North Korea 9-8 in the quarter-finals, and it set off another celebration by coach Mahdi Ali's team.
By the time the players had been separated, the referee blew his whistle to signal full time.
The coach said he told his players to temper their enthusiasm.
"The celebrations can wait until we have completed all the matches in this competition," Mahdi Ali said. "We have come this far and we must now try and win the gold. So the celebrations can wait until the job is complete. "I want my players to forget this game and focus on the final. It was really a great win and it was achieved with a lot of preparation. We went with a similar plan as we did against North Korea, but this time we were able to finish it off before it went into a penalty tiebreak.
"We had a few injured players and we played a balanced game. We attacked whenever we had the opportunity and by doing so we created a few chances from which we could have scored. It was a game everything went to plan for us, fortunately."
His team has barely more than 40 hours to prepare for the gold-medal match against Japan, who defeated Iran 2-1 in their semi-final.
"I have to see how many fit players I have for the next game," Ali said. "These players have been outstanding throughout the competition and now all I ask from them is one last effort to win the final."
Only a few minutes before the winning strike, the Koreans appeared to have taken the lead, but a goal was chalked off when a linesman detected a Korean player in an offside position.
With the seconds ticking down, Hamdan al Kamali, the UAE central defender, sent a long ball deep into Korean territory. Mohammed al Shehhi was after it, but it was partially cleared by a Korean defender and picked up by Amer Abdulrahman. He sent it to Ahmed Khalil, who passed it right to Omar Abdulrahman to set up the unmarked Ahmed Ali, the Baniyas forward.
Hong-myung Bo, the South Korea coach, said he had warned his players not to lose concentration after their goal had been ruled out.
"I told them not to lose control, but some of them did," Hong said. "I think the bad positioning from our players was the reason we conceded the goal."
The UAE had failed to survive group play in five previous Asian Games but now is guaranteed a medal in China.
* Compiled by Amith Passela