For 80 minutes, it was not a game for sweeping assessments. Mahdi Ali produced a first XI with eight new members, the UAE didn't have to win, or so much as score, and for a long time it looked as if they would do neither.
Those who followed the rise of the age-group cohorts who are now the national team knew that Hamdan Al Kamali was the rock in the back, Amer Abdulrahman (and later Omar Abdulrahman) was the trickster in the middle and Ahmed Khalil was the goal scorer.
His zenith was the pair of strikes in the second half at Tashkent last March that rescued the UAE from a 2-0 deficit and secured a berth at the London Olympics. One was a free kick from distance, the other a rocket of a volley, both memorable. And then … nothing.
He had an abysmal Olympics, but more worrisome was that he was playing like a man whose technical skills had deserted him. The early months of the domestic season did nothing to allay those fears; in the first two matches at the Gulf Cup, it was Ali Mabkhout who produced and Khalil who looked lost.
Then came the cool tap-in off a pass from Amer Abdulrahman, the sprint onto a long ball and a nerveless, left-footed strike from distance that served as reminders of his skill. Perhaps, then, Khalil is back, and just in time for the hard work ahead in the knockout rounds against Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. As has often been the case, his timing is impressive.
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