x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Bathenay's men draw a blank

Dominique Bathenay has plenty to work on in the coming week on the evidence of UAE's goalless draw with Kuwait.

Matar, centre, takes on the Kuwait defence.
Matar, centre, takes on the Kuwait defence.

DUBAI // Dominique Bathenay has plenty to work on in the coming week on the evidence of UAE's goalless draw with Kuwait tonight. The hosts, who open the defence of their Gulf Cup crown on Monday against Yemen, looked rather undercooked in their final game before the kick off in Muscat.

The defence looked unsteady at the start, but did settle down soon enough - but the biggest concern has to be the lack of goals. The UAE dominated the proceedings but had little to show for the superiority. And this malaise is not new - Ismail Matar and company have been goal-shy from the start of this season, scoring more than one goal in a game just once, in the 2-2 draw with Iraq on Saturday. A successful defence in Oman will need to see a bit more from them.

Watched by the German legend Franz Beckenbauer, the Oman coach Claude Le Roy and thousands of local fans, the UAE made a ragged start to the game. The defence looked jittery as the pacey Kuwaiti duo of Ahmed Ajab and Bader al Mutwa found space with alarming regularity. The visitors had three shots on the goal in the first five minutes of the game, but keeper Majed Nasser ensured against any early reversals.

Calm was restored as the game progressed, but keeping possession still posed a problem for the UAE. The hosts, though, started to look a lot more confident and took control of the game. There were plenty of goalscoring opportunities as well with Ismail al Hammadi coming close to opening the scores in the 20th minute. The Al Ahli winger weaved his way into the box from the right and past three defenders, before taking a shot, but a deflection carried it across the face of the goal.

Luck was not on Faris Jumaa's side in the 31st minute as his header bounced off the bar, and Abdulraheem Jumaa's attempt to nod in the rebound was blocked by the Kuwaiti keeper Nawaf al Khaldi. And al Khaldi came to Kuwait's rescue again in the 37th minute, getting his body behind the diminutive al Hammadi's header. Beckenbauer, in Dubai on a family holiday following a trip to the Club World Cup in Japan, will not have been impressed with either side's first-half performance.

Returning for the second half, Bathenay made three changes to the side, introducing Mohammed Omar, a goalscorer on Saturday against Iraq, Haidar Ali Alo and Abdulsalaam Jumaa to cement the midfield. Ahmed Dada Mubarak was also brought on 15 minutes later. The substitutions had the desired affect with the UAE improving on their first-half show and taking a firm grip on the game. The Kuwaitis were left chasing shadows for most of the time. The goals, though, didn't come.

The spirited Omar did manage to squeeze through the packed defence in the 75th minute and sent a cross through, but there was no one at the end of it. @Email:arizvi@thenational.ae