x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Al Menhali's sprint of joy

The World Cup and Asian U19 team member admits he has not known greater joy than scoring UAE's last-gasp winner against Uzbekistan.

Sultan al Menhali runs to greet his teammates on the sidelines after scoring the UAE's winner against Uzbekistan.
Sultan al Menhali runs to greet his teammates on the sidelines after scoring the UAE's winner against Uzbekistan.

Sultan al Menhali has been to a World Cup and won the Asian Under-19 title, but the diminutive winger admits he has not known greater joy than he experienced scoring UAE's last-gasp winner against Uzbekistan on Wednesday night. After putting the ball into the back of the net three minutes into stoppage time at the Pakhtakor Stadium in Tashkent, al Menhali ran towards the UAE bench like a crazed man, leaping into the arms of Ismail Rashid, the team manager.

Long after the game, the youngster from Al Jazira was still struggling to express his emotions. "I just don't know how to express my feelings of joy," he said. "All I can say is that this is easily the most precious goal I have ever scored. It helped the team win the game and top the group. What more can I ask for, especially since I had come on as a substitute? I hope this match will be turning point now and the team will keep rising up."

Al Menhali's winner came during a swift counter-attack in the closing seconds, with Ahmed Khalil - another late substitute - doing all the hard yards. The Al Ahli striker, who scored the lone goal in UAE's last international against Malaysia, muscled his way past his marker and crossed the ball even as he lost his balance. "I came on as a substitute against Malaysia and scored the winner," said Khalil, the Asian Youth Player for 2008 and the player of the tournament in UAE's triumph at the Asian Under-19 Championship earlier that year. "In this game, I was able to create the winning goal. So I think I am turning out to be a trump card for the team and I thank God for the success.

"This win is a really important one for the team. We managed to show our supporters that we could win, despite the pressure that Uzbekistan put on us. They created a number of chances, but we managed to keep them from scoring and then get a goal in the dying seconds. This shows the new resolve in the team and we will be looking to build on it in the coming period." The two youngsters aside, Majed Nasser, the UAE goalkeeper, had an outstanding game and was a pillar of strength for his team. Srecko Katanec, the UAE coach, doffed his hat to the man between the posts.

Nasser was just remarkable," said Katanec, crediting his goalkeeper for the win in the 2011 Asian Cup qualifier, which was not crucial as both the UAE and Uzbekistan had already booked their passage to the finals in Qatar next January. "He made some incredible stops and the defence also did an excellent job in front of him. "For the UAE, this is a really big win because Uzbekistan are a very strong team and ranked higher [33 places] than us. But the result has not come in a vacuum, we had to work hard for it.

"What pleases me most is the way we battled it out, despite all the pressure that Uzbekistan were creating. Any coach would be pleased with the way we stuck out there and won the game. The players showed great spirits and fought like men till the end." @Email:arizvi@thenational.ae