ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT // A pair of dramatic injury time goals that secured a draw for the UAE in the Under 20 World Cup were all the more extraordinary as the players were suffering heavily from the effects of Ramadan, the team's coach said. Mahdi Ali watched his side miss a host chances as they fell 2-0 behind to South Africa in their opening contest in Egypt on Sunday night.
But despite several players struggling to keep pace due to a lack of stamina they managed to strike twice in four minutes of injury time through a penalty from skipper Hamdan al Kamali and a header from Theyab Awana. The coach hopes the spirit shown by the side will help carry them to victory in the Group F clash against Honduras tomorrow night and on to the latter stages of the tournament. "We did not play to our potential," said Ali. "But we have to remember our players were fasting during the month of Ramadan and that affected our performance. They need at least 10 to 14 days to recover from the effects of fasting and this game has come just seven or eight days after the end of Ramadan.
"As you saw, our players got really tired and many of them were suffering from cramps. "Anyway, I can assure you that we will be better in the next match, both mentally and physically. You will see a much better performance." The country are joint second in the group after the draw with Honduras leading the table on three points after the 3-0 win over Hungary in their opening round match. Despite struggling for form in the run up to the World Cup, there has been a fairly high level of expectation within the UAE camp that they could progress beyond the group stage of the tournament.
That is still a realistic possibility thanks to avoiding defeat against South Africa. Despite the draw, Kamali could not hide his anger after what he saw as too many below par efforts on the pitch - even allowing for the lack of fitness due to Ramadan. "We need a much better performance in the second game," said the Al Wahda defender. "Qualifying for the next round will not be easy . "Every single player needs to have an honest look at his performance. We missed a number of scoring opportunities due to the haste of players and there was also lethargy.
"That is something we cannot afford in the coming games. "The one positive we can take from this game is the fighting spirit we showed out there. To get two goals in injury time is a good omen and I hope we can build on it in the coming games." Substitute Ahmed Ali, who set up the equaliser, added: "We did not play well in this game, but in scoring those two late goals we learned an invaluable lesson, that nothing is impossible in football. We would have loved to start with a win, but the important thing is we did not lose the game.
"Now we have to make sure we get three points in the next game. That will put us in a strong position and help us qualify." email@example.com