x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Gone in 20 seconds

After dominating the game and battering the Costa Rican goal with 23 attempts, the UAE still finished second-best in the quarter-finals of the Under 20 World Cup.

The UAE keeper Yousif Abdulrahman watches as Marcos Urena scores Costa Rica's winner.
The UAE keeper Yousif Abdulrahman watches as Marcos Urena scores Costa Rica's winner.

CAIRO // After dominating the game, hogging 55 per cent of possession and battering the Costa Rican goal with 23 attempts, the UAE still finished second-best in the quarter-finals of the Under 20 World Cup on Saturday night, conceding a goal with 20 seconds of extra-time injury-time to go.

For the UAE coach Mahdi Ali those statistics point out the obvious: the better team did not win, the luckier team did. The referee Ivan Bebek also contributed to UAE's downfall, with some questionable decisions. He denied them a penalty in the sixth minute when Ahmed Khalil was brought down in the box and overlooked a nasty foul on Ahmed Ali that eventually forced the coach to substitute him. Mahdi Ali rightfully pointed out to the mistakes: "I don't think some of those decisions were really fair on us," he said. "Anyway, I don't want to blame the refereeing for our loss. Sometimes these things happen. This is football. The referee, like a player, can make mistakes sometimes. We just have to accept it."

Bebek also showed Mohammed Fawzi a straight red card when the game was just two minutes away from the penalties. The numerical advantage helped for Costa Rica, though it was a defensive lapse that gifted the Concacaf champions victory. Three minutes and 40 seconds into injury-time of extra-time, UAE captain Hamdan al Kamali headed back for his goalkeeper Yousif Abdulrahman, failing to notice the charging Allen Guevara, who reached the ball first and took a shot. Abdulrahman managed to block that, but the rebound fell into the path of Marcos Urena, who shot home. The last-gasp goal stunned the 33,000 supporters, most of whom had come to the Cairo International Stadium to support the UAE.

Those fans were dreaming of a grand win after Ahmed Ali had put the UAE ahead in the 33rd minute. Just four minutes later, though, Josue Martinez headed home the equaliser, paving the way for Urena's late heroics. Mahdi Ali added: "I believe we deserved to be in the semis, but it was not in our destiny." When Urena scored, his coach Ronald Gonzalez had his back to the game as he was planning for a penalty shootout. "I was not watching the game when the entire bench exploded with joy," he said. "I missed the goal. But that doesn't matter, winning does."

It also completed a remarkable turnaround for Costa Rica, who had started their campaign with a 5-0 loss against Brazil, the team they now face in tomorrow's semi-final. Gonazalez added: "They have so much individual talent. But nothing is impossible in football." @Email:arizvi@thenational.ae