ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT // The man in charge of UAE football believes the Under 20 team have nothing to fear in their World Cup group game against Honduras tonight. The Emirates needed two late goals to avoid defeat in their opening game to South Africa on Monday, while Honduras beat Hungary 3-0, a match watched by the UAE Football Association president Mohammed Khalfan al Rumaithi.
"Honduras are organised, but not as dangerous as the South Africans," he said. "Of course, this is my personal point of view from watching the game on TV. "They beat Hungary 3-0, but that doesn't mean anything except that they are a team we should respect. They are in the group and we are all fighting for a spot in the second round." The UAE battled fatigue and the effects of fasting to get a point in the 2-2 draw in that Group F opener on Sunday night.
"We are much better than what we showed in the first game," said the coach Mahdi Ali. "The players are really determined to prove that. We struggled against South Africa for reasons we have already explained, but the way the boys fought until the end should give every coach confidence." Honduras were far more impressive in their opener as they ended a run of nine consecutive defeats in the competition with a stunning victory over the group favourites.
The Central American country's last victory at this tournament came in 1977, ironically also against Hungary, and they have never reached the second round in four previous attempts. The Honduras coach Emilio Umanzor's biggest concern will be keeping his team calm. "We need to keep our feet on the ground now, which is not always easy to do after a result like that," he said. "The coaching staff and I will be keeping a close eye on the boys to make sure they don't get carried away.
"There is a lot of pressure on my team to win this game and I my job will be to make sure they don't get affected. We know this game will be very tough, much tougher than the game against Hungary. "But our goal at this tournament is to make history by becoming the first team from Honduras to reach the second round." Three points tonight will virtually assure the UAE of a place in the knockout stages, while a victory will guarantee Honduras a place.
Al Rumaithi is banking on a much-improved performance from the UAE forward line, which squandered a number of opportunities against South Africa. "Our main concern should be building on the performance we showed in the last 10 minutes of the South Africa match and take it forward," he said. "Winning the Honduras match will put us in a very good position and that should be our target. Three points from this game will take our tally to four and I think that will definitely give us a chance to go through at least as one of the four best third-placed teams."
"The first game of a tournament is always difficult and thankfully we were able to get a point from it. Now our target is to win the match against Honduras," said Sultan al Menhali. Theyab Awana, who scored the 93rd-minute equaliser on Monday, added: "The way we played in the final minutes of the first match proves that we are a better team than what you saw in regulation time against the South Africans."
In tonight's other group game, South Africa play Hungary. firstname.lastname@example.org UAE v Honduras, KO 11pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 3 & ART Sports 4