DUBAI // The difference between former world champions Germany and the hosts UAE was not as profound as the 7-2 scoreline on Tuesday night suggested. During the course of their defeat, Dominique Bathenay's "Whites" took the attack to the Germans, leaving the visiting coach Joachim Loew impressed.
"The UAE have to be commended for their positive, attack-minded play," Loew said. "It certainly contributed to the entertainment value of the game. I think the entire UAE team is technically gifted. Comfortable on the ball, they have very agile and nifty players." Loew was also mildly critical of his team when he said: "The problem was our midfielders did not close the opponents down. Whoever was in possession from the UAE team, wasn't attacked, wasn't closed down, wasn't pressured, which meant they could play these dangerous through passes that left us exposed.
"They can play such a game and are able to because they are comfortable on the ball. There were lots of empty spaces sometimes. So the problem was in the midfield." Led by the irrepressible Ismail al Hammadi and the impressive Mohammed al Shehi, the UAE created a number of opportunities. They could have been leading 3-0 before Heiko Westermann opened the scoring for the visitors in the 29th minute, but were denied by the heroics of Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who was making his debut.
"Neuer kept us in the game," said Loew, praising the performance of the 23-year-old. "On a couple of occasions in one-on-one situations, he prevented the opponents from scoring. "Sometimes he just got a hand to it and deflected the ball. I think his performance was admirable. Before the kick-off, he was cool, calm and collected. He didn't show even a sign of nervousness. So I think it was a fantastic debut for him."
Neuer was not the only positive to emerge from the game for Loew. Their striker Mario Gomez ended his drought with four goals in the game. "I was getting sick and tired of people counting the minutes that he hadn't scored," said Loew. "I am really glad that it is over now. "He wasted a few chances initially, but with the first goal he scored, you could sense that there was a figurative hand-break being loosened.
"It was all systems go from then on. I am just glad it happened this way and I think it augurs well for the beginning of the next season. He is liberated now." Gomez had not scored for Germany since March 2008, a barren run that lasted 15 games. But at Al Nasr Stadium, he joined Gerd Muller, Michael Ballack and Lukas Podolski as the only Germans to score four goals in an international match. Loew said he is happy with the outcome of the game. "This Asian tour was worth it. Neuer played great, Gomez scored again. These are two things that make me very happy," he said.
Gomez was naturally relieved more than anything else after the game. "They were a tough opponent, but I am glad that this jinx has ended. I am just happy that the curse is now gone," said the 23-year-old, who will join Bayern Munich from VfB Stuttgart next season. "A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. "The good thing was that I scored in the 90th minute, otherwise it would have been another 40 minutes since I last scored," he added.
After Westermann's opener, Gomez struck in the 35th, 45th and 48th minutes and added the fourth in injury time. Piotr Trochowski's 39th minute strike and Fares Juma's own goal in the 52nd minute added to Germany's tally. Al Hammadi (53rd minute) and the substitute Nawaf Mubarak (73rd minute) reduced the deficit for UAE, something Neuer was not too pleased about that. "I enjoyed the game, although I would have preferred to keep a clean sheet," he said after a performance that could earn him a place in the German squad for the 2010 World Cup.
"Whether I am a candidate for the World Cup is up to other people to decide." email@example.com