When goalkeeper Ali Kasheif and centre-back Hamdan Al Kamali lost track of the 6ft 4ins Mike Havenaar in the six-yard box, it was the only major mistake the UAE committed at the Tokyo National Stadium yesterday.
Havenaar nodded home the cross after the UAE pair had misjudged the flight of the ball to clinch a 1-0 win, but Mahdi Ali can take several positives from his first game in charge of the team.
His men put in a commendable performance against a side rated 99 places above them in the Fifa rankings, especially given that they had just a couple of days training in Dubai before they flew out to Japan on Monday.
Mahdi Ali also had a selection problem with three of his senior players - Ismail Matar, Ali Al Wehaibi and Ismail Ahmed - ruled out because of injury.
However, the team - made up of 10 graduates from the Olympic squad who fared admirably at London 2012 - matched Japan on technique and stamina. They created as many chances as the home side but could not find the finishing touch.
And that has been the issue for the UAE team for several years.
Matar, scorer of two at the Olympics, was out. Ahmed Khalil is still struggling to replicate his Under 19 form at senior level while Ali Mabkhout was a bit disappointing.
So, while a midfield led by the gifted Omar Abdulrahman looked promising and the defence marshalled by Walid Abbas, kept an explosive Japanese forward line to just one goal, Mahdi Ali is still searching for the last piece of the jigsaw -an efficient striker.
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