DOHA // Srecko Katanec admits the UAE's chances of qualifying for the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup are slim after a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat against Iraq last night.
An own-goal by Walid Abbas, three minutes into injury time, gave Iraq a 1-0 win and kept the defending champions' own chances of qualification alive.
The UAE had seemed destined for their second consecutive 0-0 draw of the tournament, until Younus Mahmood's cross deflected off the Al Shabab defender's toe and into the net. Abbas sank to his knees, clutching his face while the stunned UAE fans fell silent in the stands.
"We are all very disappointed because we played a good match," Katanec said. "To concede a goal in the last minute is always very hard, but we must accept. This is football. We have one more game and we must stay focused."
The UAE can still make the knockout stages, but the permutations became much tougher with their defeat. Iran, who have already qualified, are next up and Katanec will hope that Afshin Ghotbi, their coach, rests some players ahead the latter stages.
The UAE have to win, and then hope that Kuwait do not beat North Korea.
Another, more unlikely, scenario is that both the Koreans and the Emirates win. In that case, goal difference will come into play.
"This is the most important thing now. We have lost this match and we cannot change anything about it now," Katanec added.
"Iraq have three points now and we have one, so we have no option but to go all out for a win against Iran and pray that Iraq lose against North Korea.
"To get a goal in injury time is a shock, it is really hard to accept. But the players must stay strong and learn something from this game. They are professionals and they should be able to get over moments like these.
"We just look ahead and work hard in training over the coming days. We need to turn the page on this game.
"Honestly, it will be really difficult for us to qualify for the second round, but we must try and stay positive."
It was a devastating end to the game for the UAE, but the blame for failing to pick up three points again fell on their strike force.
Like the first game- a 0-0 draw with North Korea - the UAE just could not find the net despite some really good chances.
Ahmed Khalil, playing as the lone striker, was woefully off colour and was replaced by Saeed al Kas in the 67th minute, but the Al Wasl forward did no better.
The game once again showed UAE's glaring deficiencies in front of the goal, which is preventing Katanec's team from reaching their true potential.
There should be few worries in midfield and defence on the evidence of last night's dogged performance as the UAE kept a tight leash on the defending champions until that error in injury time.
Iraq, who lost their opening match 2-1 to traditional rivals Iran, had their chances too as both sides hit the woodwork.
Midway through the first half, Mohammed Kassid, the Iraqi goalkeeper, was breathing a sigh of relief as Hamdan al Kamali's header brushed off his far post and bounced back into play.
Khalil then had the opportunity to put the UAE ahead in the 25th minute, with just the goalkeeper to beat, but his header from 10 yards sailed way over.
A searching volley from Nashat Akram in the 39th minute had Majed Nasser, the UAE goalkeeper, airborne to punch the ball clear. Akram was denied again from the resulting corner, when his header bounced off the crossbar. and three minutes later, Iraq were frustrated again by the woodwork when Qusay Muneer's swirling right-footer smashed into the left post.
Khalil frustrated the UAE fans with another poor finish after the break when he failed to beat the Iraq goalkeeper in a one-on-one situation.
And the UAE suffered a further blow when Subait Khater, who is retiring after the tournament, had to leave the pitch with blood streaming down his face, and possible concussion, following a collision.