How quickly hope turned to despair. Leading Spain by a goal with less than 10 minutes to go, the UAE players must have thought that progress from the group stage of the Beach Soccer World Cup was, at long last, more than just a dream. But then reality struck again.
An eventual 5-2 loss left the UAE needing results to go their way elsewhere to retain any hope of qualifying for the quarter-finals. Sadly, there would be no miracle scenario.
It is hard to pinpoint what caused the late collapse in which they surrendered four third-period goals after leading 2-1 inside the 10-minute mark. Perhaps it was fatigue. The players had performed heroically in the opening two periods, carrying on their excellent finish in the opening-match loss to Tahiti.
Once again, the Emirates retained a majority of the possession (53 per cent) but yet again failed to create enough clear-cut chances.
Spectacular as Mohamed Al Jasmi’s flick-and-volley opening goal was, the team should not be relying on their goalkeeper to get on the scoresheet.
It is telling that in the two matches, the team’s star striker and top scorer, Ali Karim, has barely had a shot, nevermind scored.
A statistic showing UAE had 17 shots on goal compared to Spain’s 28 tells its own story.
Or maybe it was simple naivety in not closing out the match when leading.
Either way, coach Marcelo Mendes and his players looked heart-broken at the final whistle; they knew they would never get a better chance to advance to the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time in the country’s history.
Even after the defeat, fate continued to tease the UAE, who needed the United States to beat Tahiti to keep alive their slim hope of progressing.
The US rallied from 3-1 down to get level, but Tahiti struck twice more to win 5-3, ensuring a spot with Spain in the knockout stages, meaning tomorrow’s game with the US is moot for the UAE.
The Emirati players will no doubt want to end their campaign on a high note, regardless. Despite the obvious disappointment, the team can be proud of their form so far.
Goalkeeper Al Jasmi, thrown in at the deep end after Humaid Jamal’s fractured toe ruled him out of the tournament two days before the start of the competition, has been superb. Undoubtedly, he has been the UAE’s best player in Papeete.
His teammates, too, ran themselves into the sandy ground throughout, but in the end, their efforts were simply not enough.
They now enter the last match with nothing to play for, with no pressure or match nerves.
A win, meaningless as it may ultimately be, would be the least that they deserve before getting on that long flight back to Dubai.