ABU DHABI // Mahdi Ali took his record as the UAE national team coach in all competitions to seven wins in seven games last night.
Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkhout scored crucial strikes within three second-half minutes as the UAE came from a goal down to win 2-1 over Uzbekistan in their Asian Cup qualifier at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
“This result is a big step forward for our qualification, because Uzbekistan is one of the teams expected to win a ticket to 2015 Australia,” the coach said.
“The players worked very hard for the past seven days and this was the end result. We couldn’t score in the first half, although we had a few opportunities.
“We made some changes in the second half and it worked.
“It also proves that the team doesn’t depend on any star players. Tonight they proved that point as a cohesive unit.”
The absence of Omar Abdulrahman, the Emirati playmaker, was hardly felt as Amer Abdulrahman, who took his place, played a perfect role and set up both goals.
“We have seen Amer’s return from injury, especially after the Gulf match game against Oman,” the coach said. “He is as good as any other with good skills and talent, and I am very happy for him.”
Ismail Matar’s arrival as a second-half substitute was a turning point.
“Yes, he played an influential role,” the coach said. “He was in the thick of the attack and also fell back in defence, which you don’t see him do before. So he played to his maximum in the 45 minutes. He worked very hard for the team.”
The fans were behind the home team, with an announced 21,357 in attendance, and Mahdi Ali said to bring the crowd back was one of his objectives when he took charge of the national team last August.
“The fans stayed away because they didn’t have the confidence in the team,” he said.
“Now they have the confidence to come and watch the national team and I thank them for that.
“They were behind us all through this game. They didn’t stop cheering the team even when we were a goal down.
“It certainly motivated the team and I think they were the key for the team to come from behind and win this game.
“They were behind us in the Gulf Cup [which the UAE won] and have continued to come and support us in the home games.”
Mirdjalal Kasimov, the Uzbek coach, said three minutes in the second half changed the entire game for them.
“It was an interesting game, especially for the fans,” Kasimov said. “I think we didn’t deserve this result, because we had many scoring chances and were also a bit unlucky.
“At least a draw would have justified our performance. Even after conceding the lead, we had a few chances to get the equalizer but the UAE goalkeeper (Ali Kasheif) was outstanding.”
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