x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Down and as good as out

The UAE coach Dominique Bathenay finally admits the UAE will not be playing in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Ismail Salem Saeed al Hammadi lies distraught on the Al Maktoum Stadium pitch in Dubai after hearing the final whistle which virtually called time on the UAE's World Cup campaign.
Ismail Salem Saeed al Hammadi lies distraught on the Al Maktoum Stadium pitch in Dubai after hearing the final whistle which virtually called time on the UAE's World Cup campaign.

DUBAI // The UAE coach Dominique Bathenay has finally agreed with what most of the country has believed for the past two months - they will almost certainly not be playing in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The downcast Frenchman said after the 1-1 draw against Iran on Wednesday night: "We have to be honest; there is no point in lying to yourself.

"It is very difficult for us now. If we had won three points in this game, then the group would have been wide open. But now I am not very optimistic." The UAE needed to win to keep them in with an outside chance of catching the other sides in Group Two of the final round of Asian qualifying. Unlike their previous three games, they actually deserved three points, dominating their more fancied rivals.

The UAE captain Abdulraheem Jumaa put the UAE into the lead in the 19th minute and his team went on to create a dozen more chances to seal the game. Only poor finishing and the outstanding Iranian goalkeeper Seyed Mehdi Rahmati denied them. The Iran captain Karim Bagheri, returning to the international scene after seven years, added to the UAE's woes by conjuring up the equaliser nine minutes from time. Iran had not looked like scoring till then.

"We played a very good against a very good team," said Bathenay. "We created a lot of chances, but unfortunately we did not capitaliseon them. "I am really sorry for my players, because they showed a big heart and made a great effort to get the three points we needed." The draw leaves the UAE with one point from four games. South Korea are top with seven points, Iran have five and Saudi Arabia and North Korea are on four each.

In order to cause a massive surprise and qualify for the World Cup the UAE need to win their remaining four games - at home against South Korea and away in North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran - and hope the other results go their way. The qualifiers resume in March. Before that, Bathenay will take his team to Oman to defend the Gulf Cup they won in Abu Dhabi in 2007. The tournament starts on Jan 4 and the Emirates are in Group B alongside Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Yemen.

"We will think about the World Cup in March," said Bathenay. "For now our focus is the Gulf Cup. This performance against Iran should give us a lot of confidence for the tournament." Mohammed Khalfan al Rumaithi, the president of the UAE Football Association, echoed Bathenay's views. "Our chances of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup are very slim, but a bright future lies ahead for UAE football," he said.

"The success of our junior and youth teams gives us a lot of hope. "We have the Gulf Cup coming up in January. It is a very big tournament for us and we go to Oman as the defending champions.We are very happy with the level our team played at against Iran. "We are now starting to play to our potential and that should be a good sign for the Gulf Cup." Jumaa, however, still hopes the UAE can somehow reach the World Cup for only the second time; their only appearance on the grand stage was at Italia 1990.

The top teams from the two Asian groups get a direct route to South Africa taking on the Oceania champion for a place among the 32 nations in South Africa. "We still have a chance and we can aim for the second or third position in the group if we can continue to play at this level," he said. "We played a great game: we gave it everything we have, but we were not destined to win. "I thank all the players for their great effort."

arizvi@thenational.ae