x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Focus is on the future after Under 23 Gulf Cup final loss

The mission is set for 2012 qualification, after the loss to Oman in a penalty shoot-out.

The Under 23 team drew 0-0 with Oman in the final, before the match was decided in a penalty shoot-out that Oman won 4-2.
The Under 23 team drew 0-0 with Oman in the final, before the match was decided in a penalty shoot-out that Oman won 4-2.

Mohammed Khalfan Al Rumaithi, the president of the Football Association, has told the Olympic team to focus on a more important task - qualifying for the 2012 London Games - after their defeat to Oman at the Under 23 Gulf Cup final.

The UAE, the defending champions, were dethroned when they lost on penalties to Oman in Qatar on Sunday night.

The shoot-out finished 4-2 to Oman after a 0-0 draw at the Aspire Academy in Doha.

"To reach the final was commendable," Al Rumaithi said. "Now we must leave behind this result and look ahead to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, which has been our biggest objective.

"There is no reason to be disappointed in losing in a final after doing your best. What was important from this competition was how well we played and I believe we played well with some of the key players missing from the line-up. We were beaten by a better team on the day. This is football."

Mohammed Ali Gharib's opening penalty crashed against the post and Abdulaziz Sankor sent the fourth spot kick wide while Oman were successful from all their attempts to win the U23 title for the first time.

Oman were good value for their trophy, having beaten the UAE 3-2 the group phase and Saudi Arabia 4-3 in the semi-finals.

The UAE also did well to reach the final, with key players Hamdan Al Kamali, Ahmed Khalil, Theyab Awana, Amer Abdulrahman and Adel Al Hosani all absent with the senior squad preparing for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

The U23 squad returned to the UAE yesterday and three of their players - Mohammed Abdulrahman, Mohammed Fawzi and Mohammed Ali Gharib - will join the senior team preparing for a friendly against Qatar in Al Ain on Thursday.

The senior team host Kuwait in their first qualifier on September 2, before travelling to Lebanon on September 6.

The eight U23 players drafted in to the squad may have to play a dual role by returning to the Olympic team for a tough away clash with Australia on September 21.

"We have been in this situation before and we don't see it as a major issue unless players pick up injuries," Mohammed Obaid Hammad, the team administrator, said.

"As a matter of fact to play in the senior national team and then return to the age group team has huge benefits for those players. They certainly are a level above when they return to the Olympic team."

The UAE moved into the group stage of Olympic qualifying after a 10-1 aggregate victory against Sri Lanka over two legs and then a narrow 2-1 aggregate win against North Korea in the two preliminary rounds.

They are now in a 12-team three-group phase from which the top finishers in each group will earn direct qualification to the London Games. The three runners up will go into a play-off round - at a neutral venue - and the winner will then play a two-legged qualifier against Africa's fourth-placed team.

"The higher and higher we go, the competition, too, gets tougher," Hammad said. "It is the best team that reaches the Olympic Games and we must prove that we are good enough to play in the Olympics.

"In my opinion, this team has all the characteristics to reach the London Games. They are the most successful age-group team to emerge and their record proves it."

The squad, coached by Mahdi Ali, have already won the U16 Gulf Cup in 2006 before adding the U19 Asian Cup and U23 Gulf Cup. They also reached the last eight in the U20 World Cup in 2009.

apassela@thenational.ae