The juxtaposition between the present and future of Emirati football was made clear this weekend as the national team stuttered to a 1-1 draw at home to Palestine before the Under 20 side restored some pride with a battling performance against Costa Rica in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
Both sets of players left the pitch looking dejected on Saturday, but it was the future senior internationals who could hold their heads the highest. They conceded a goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time at the end of extra-time to lose 2-1, having been the better side for much of the match. "Sometimes luck is the only thing that matters, you just have to accept it," said Madhi Ali, the coach of the U20 side.
"Sometimes you win even when you play badly, but we lost after playing really well. The most important thing is that you should give it your all on the pitch and when you come off, you should be satisfied with yourself. That's exactly what my players did." Some members of the U20 squad already have senior caps, and Ali thinks they have the right mentality to forge careers at the highest level. "I would like to thank the players from my heart because they have worked really hard over the past three months, making many sacrifices," he said.
The U20s' success was in stark contrast to the senior UAE team, who earlier in the day marked Srecko Katanec's first game as coach with a lacklustre performance against Palestine. They would have expected to beat one of the minnows of world football, especially with home advantage at Al Wasl's stadium in Dubai. Yet they found themselves a goal down and could have conceded far more as the visitors enjoyed a dominant first-half before the Emirates came back after the restart.
Katanec's post-match conference lasted barely five minutes. He was given time to express his opinion of the game and then answered one question before being whisked away by Football Association officials. "It was bad game. We were not running, not fighting, and simply not doing anything before the break," he said. "I know the players were getting together after a long break but that is not a justification for a poor game. These players have known each other quite well but they were not concentrating."
Midfielder Haider Ali admitted the players were not at their best but said they were determined to help the new manager. "It was really a poor first game and it took some talking from the coach at the break to get organised and motivated," he said. "We fell short of the expectations he had on us and for sure we are willing to work harder to help him achieve better results. "I am confident we'll be better against Jordan on Wednesday."
@Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Gone in 20 seconds s2. They did us proud, a23