The UAE stormed to a quarter-final showdown with Australia on Monday with a 4-0 demolition of Vietnam in the Under 19 Asian Cup.
Ahmed Khalil, the captain, led from the front today with a first-half hat-trick as the UAE took a major step towards defending the U19 crown they won in Saudi Arabia two years ago. And that bodes well for the future of football in the country following the youth team's 2-1 victory over Saudi Arabia in the Under 17 Gulf Cup final at the end of last month.
Amer Abdulrahman, the midfielder, scored a 77th-minute penalty complete yesterday's rout at the Zibo Sports Complex Stadium in China. The result meant the Under 19s qualified behind Japan as the second team from Group C. They now face a quarter-final against Australia, who were the Group D winners after playing out a scoreless draw with South Korea. Juma Rabee, the UAE coach, praised the character of his young players after the defending champions' victory.
"We were always confident this team would qualify for the quarter-finals despite the two disappointing results against Japan and Jordan [in earlier group games]," Rabee said. "They played true to their potential when it really mattered. We must praise the boys for the courage and the true character they showed when they were pushed into a must-win situation. It's hard to single-out any players because it is the team work in the end, but Ahmed Khalil was really outstanding with the finishing."
Khalil opened the floodgates with a delicate shot past Tan Anh Duc, the Vietnam goalkeeper, who rushed from the goal line. The ball was helped on its way by a slight touch from a retreating Vietnam defender. The Al Ahli striker added a second from a cross by Rashid Hassan before completing the hat-trick with an opportunist goal. Hassan's shot was blocked by Duc and Khalil was quick on the loose ball in front of an empty goal.
Abdelmajeed al Nemer, who appeared at the post-match conference in place of Rabee, said the championship has still to see the best of Khalil. "Khalil has not been with us a long time, he only joined us late," Al Nemer was quoted as saying on the AFC website. "He needed two or three days to be comfortable with the other players and also maybe two games to find his form. I believe that he will play even better in the next game."
The victory was the UAE's first in the competition after they lost their opening game 2-1 to Japan before drawing 0-0 with Jordan meaning nothing less than three points would do against Vietnam. Vietnam needed only a draw to qualify while Jordan, who also went into their final group game with a chance to progress, went down 3-0 to Japan. "This was the last chance for three teams," al Nemer added. "Vietnam just needed a draw to qualify while Jordan also had a chance.
"We watched Vietnam on video and we discussed the changes we needed to make. We had to win and score also so I chose to select the players I believed could do this. This game was like a final. If you lose you are out."
* Compiled by Amith Passela
Monday’s quarter final line-up
China v North Korea, 10.30am
Japan v South Korea, 10.30am
Uzbekistan v Saudi Arabia, 2.30pm
UAE v Australia, 2.30pm