Ahmed Khalil: UAE ‘will fight for every game, every point’ to reach 2018 World Cup
JEDDAH // Ahmed Khalil says the UAE players will bounce back from Tuesday’s dispiriting defeat to Saudi Arabia and give everything to ensure they secure a place at the 2018 World Cup.
The UAE’s hopes of reaching Russia 2018 were dealt a serious blow at a raucous King Abdullah Sports City, when three goals in 19 second-half minutes clinched a 3-0 win for the Saudis to send them top of Group B.
The result means Mahdi Ali’s side sit fourth after four matches, one place outside the play-off spot and two points from second. The top two teams progress to the World Cup, while the side to finish third enters a series of play-offs to make the global finals. The UAE have appeared at a World Cup only once before, in 1990. They next play Iraq in Abu Dhabi on November 15.
More from 2018 World Cup qualifying:
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Speaking directly following the defeat to Saudi, Khalil said: “We will never give up. We will not say that we lose the chance to go to the World Cup because we will fight for every game, for every point. That I promise to the UAE people and the UAE fans. I apologise to them.
“We still have six games. Of course, they will be difficult matches, but I’m sure we can do well. We will try to do our best in the next game, because we need the win.”
The UAE began the game well on Tuesday, but crumbled after substitute Fahad Al Muwallad opened the scoring in the 73rd minute with a superb volley. Nawaf Al Abed then doubled Saudi’s lead following a mistake from UAE right-back Abdulaziz Haikal, before Yahia Al Shehri rounded off a fine victory in injury-time with a well-placed free-kick.
As such, the UAE have still never defeated Saudi Arabia on their soil in a competitive fixture. The Emirates’ last win against their Gulf rivals was at the 2007 Gulf Cup — since then, they have lost eight times in nine meetings. Tuesday’s reverse particularly hurt.
“Today we had no luck, this is the second time it’s happened against Saudi Arabia,” said Khalil, who was withdrawn just before the hour in Jeddah with the score at 0-0. “Also last year we weren’t lucky in losing here. But we can avenge this defeat when Saudi Arabia come to play us in the UAE next year.
“In some games you feel it’s just not your day. I feel today was not my day, and not the day of my teammates. We are very sad, but will not give up. We will close this chapter and concentrate on the future.”
The UAE can take heart from the fact Group B remains tight, and that they opened this third and final qualification stage with a surprise 2-1 victory away to heavyweights Japan. Since then, they were beaten by Australia, the current Asian champions, and last week defeated Thailand 3-1.
Goalkeeper Majed Naser, who wore the captain’s armband against Saudi, echoed Khalil’s sentiments while reminding that the group leaders still have trips to Japan, Australia and Abu Dhabi to come.
“We tried to make a good game. We were good in the first half, my teammates concentrated on the job in front of us and we did that very well,” Naser said. “But in the second half, we made some mistakes and paid a lot for them.
“But we never give up. It’s only three points — we still have 18 points to fight for on the pitch. Our chance is still big. We have an important game against Iraq next that we must win. Saudi Arabia will lose points in the future, the same as we have done. They still have to travel to play the big teams.”
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Updated: October 12, 2016 04:00 AM